|It only takes a visitor one look at
present-day Kota Kinabalu, or KK, to conclude that this is a
fairly new city. The only colonial remnants of an almost
century-long British control are the Old Post Office
Building and the Atkinson Clock Tower in the older part of
the capital. With many of its office buildings and
commercial edifices, some still with that fresh-paint look
and with constructions going on at almost every major
intersection, one could not be blamed for thinking that KK
was built just yesterday.
Indeed, KK just received its city status recently on 2
February 2000. However, its history dates more than a
century back to the days when the British North Borneo
Chartered Company discovered it by accident, after a fire
burnt down its former administration center on Gaya Island.
KK was then a small fishing village, sited on a narrow strip
of land with hills on one side and sea on the other. It was
named Api-Api, loosely translated as 'Fire-Fire', to denote
the blaze that destroyed the former administration center.
It was later renamed Jesselton, after Sir Charles Jessel,
then Deputy Manager of the British North Borneo Company.
Under the Chartered Company's control, Jesselton became a
trading hub for local produce such as rubber, rattan, wild
honey and wax. A railway line was built to transport goods
from the deep interiors to the harbor. (The railway has
undergone refurbishment and now runs heritage trips inland).
While the Chartered Company did bring about tremendous
change to the land and its people by quelling piracy,
planting tobacco, developing rubber estates and importing
Indonesian and Chinese laborers to work, there were some
local tribes who were displeased and staged a few upheavals.
It was, however, during the Japanese occupation of the
Second World War that Jesselton encountered its worse
attack. Only three buildings were left standing from the
Allied bombings, which forced the Japanese to surrender.
Unable to finance the enormous cost of reconstruction, the
Chartered Company bowed out and North Borneo was handed over
to the British Crown and made a colony.
Jesselton became the capital in 1946. Then in 1963, when
North Borneo joined the Federation of Malaysia and became
known as Sabah, the colonial name Jesselton gave way to Kota
Kinabalu. Jesselton now is but a name of an established
Since then, KK has grown into a reputable financial,
economic and tourism center in the region. It has certainly
moved on with the times, with numerous deluxe hotels, roads
stretching to the west and east coast towns, and modern
structures like the imposing Sabah Foundation Building
standing as symbols of advancement.
Yet, despite all the progress and power changing hands
from the British to the Japanese, to the British, and back
to the people of the land, the rich cultural diversity and
stronghold to traditions and customs remain intact.
Nowhere is this diversity more visible than in
cosmopolitan KK, where the natives, comprising the Malays,
Chinese and some 32 ethnic groups, have assimilated well
with the immigrants who flock the state in pursuit of better
opportunities. This multi-cultural trait is well represented
in the wide variety of cuisines available in and around