The Dynamics of Borneo Over Time: From the Deglaciation of Borneo Island to the Historical Records of the Javanese Kingdom


 Maps of Borneo in Ancient Times. Illustration Source:

Observing the dynamics of Borneo over time is truly fascinating. How the world's third-largest island has appeared under various aliases is intriguing. 

Poerbatjaraka briefly mentioned Tanjungpura. Even in the Oath of Palapa, it is mentioned, "... Tanjungpura too," which was to be conquered or become a feudatory of the Majapahit Empire at that time.

Bakulapura, the name of Borneo in Javanese historical records

In Javanese historical records, Borneo is referred to as "Bakulapura" or "Bakulapura." This name appears in several ancient texts, such as the Negarakertagama and Pararaton.

Negarakertagama written by Mpu Prapanca in the 14th century, this text records various regions under the influence of the Majapahit Empire. In it, Borneo is called Bakulapura, meaning cape. This indicates the island's recognition as part of Majapahit's trade and political network.

Pararaton, also known as the Book of Kings, Pararaton refers to Borneo as Tanjungpura. This historical source is significant for studying the kingdoms of the Nusantara archipelago.

Names like Bakulapura and Tanjungpura highlight Borneo's importance in the history of the Nusantara region, particularly in terms of trade and political relations with Java and other Southeast Asian kingdoms. These references illustrate Borneo's integral role in the region's historical and cultural dynamics since ancient times.

As we know, the Negarakertagama chronicles record "Bakulapura." Bakula means cape. Meanwhile, the Pararaton refers to Borneo as Tanjungpura. It seems that ancient Nusantara knew Tanjungpura as a name for the world's third-largest island. 

In ancient times, Nusantara commonly used such epithets for islands, for example:

  1. Jawadwipa - the island of rice, an alias for Java.
  2. Suwarnadwipa - the island of gold, an alias for Sumatra.
  3. Hipa Dwipa - the island that holds diamonds within its earth, also frequently appearing as Ratna Dwipa - the island scattered with precious gems (Lontaan, 1975: 70-71).

Indeed, it is both fascinating and challenging to compile a historical book on Borneo, akin to The History of Java—although it was later discovered that parts of it were plagiarized.

Deglaciation of Borneo Island

Exploring the prehistoric era of Borneo, we encounter fascinating works, such as Robert Blust's "Borneo and Iron." 

Based on linguistic evidence, knowledge of iron significantly predates the first documented iron objects on the world's third-largest island, around 500-200 BCE.

Obsidian fragments originating from England suggest that inter-island trade relationships existed around 1000 BCE. 

High concentrations of iron ore deposits on this island made Borneo a likely location in Southeast Asia for the transition from using imported iron tools to the stage of ironworking.

Deglaciation is the transition from full glacial conditions during the ice age to a warm interglacial period, marked by global warming and rising sea levels due to changes in the volume of continental ice.

Borneo was connected to the Southeast Asian mainland, as part of the landmass known as Sundaland, from 2.5 million years ago until about 10,000 years ago. During this period, global deglaciation transformed it back into an island.

Archaeological evidence

Archaeological evidence indicates that humans arrived in Sarawak, via land, at least 40,000 years ago. Additional archaeological findings also show that humans have been living in Niah Cave, Miri, Sarawak (Charles Tyler (1993) and Masri (2021)). From Kuching, the capital of Sarawak, there are traces of historical human habitation on Borneo.

An hour's journey from Kuching leads to Niah Cave. 

The undeniable historical evidence shows that humans inhabited Borneo at least 46,000 years ago. This was documented by Barker et al. (2007), noting that ancient humans occupied the Kalimantan region around the hills near Niah, Sarawak.

Observing maps of Borneo over time, it is evident that from its initial upright position, it has gradually tilted. 

However, its shape, resembling a tiger ready to pounce, has never changed.

-- Masri Sareb Putra, M.A.

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