Sarawak, historic region that is now a state of Malaysia. It comprises the northwestern part of the island of Borneo and is bounded by the sultanate of Brunei and Sabah (Malaysia) on the north and by Indonesian Borneo (Kalimantan) on the east and south. Sarawak has a low-lying and heavily indented coastline along the South China Sea. Much of its area is covered by primary rain forest. The alluvial, swampy coastal plain is backed by rolling country that is intersected by mountains and numerous navigable rivers.
Sarawak became the southern province of the sultanate of Brunei when the Majapahit empire of Java declined in the 15th century. James Brooke, an English adventurer and a former military officer of the East India Company, visited the territory in 1839 and aided the sultan in suppressing a revolt. As a reward for his services, Brooke was installed (1841) as raja of Sarawak over the sector from Tanjung Datu to the Batang (River) Samarahan; there he endeavoured to suppress piracy and headhunting.
Sarawak was recognized as a separate state by the United States (1850) and Great Britain (1864) and, until 1905, was gradually enlarged through purchase and annexation. In 1868 Brooke died and was succeeded as raja by a nephew, Charles Brooke. The latter ruled until 1917 and was succeeded by his son Charles Vyner Brooke. In 1941 the latter Brooke abrogated his absolute powers by enacting a constitution that was designed to establish democratic self-government, but the effort was delayed by the Japanese occupation (1942–45). The territory, devastated by war, was ceded to the British crown in 1946. Sarawak achieved self-government and joined Malaysia in 1963.
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