Written by Arimi Sidek
Medieval Borneo: Borneo, Man Shu and Muja
The first European to use the correct name was possibly Ludovico Varthema in 1505 AD. In this case he referred to Java the Great as Bornei.
However, the name Burni had been in use since at least the ninth century by the Chinese, when it appears in the Man Shu. In the mediaeval period, most navigators depended upon portolans or sailing instructions rather than charts. The Chinese portolans for northwest coast of Borneo dating c. 1500 AD are exceptionally excellent.
Chinese travellers and traders produced maps for their empire and other names given to Borneo Island include Po Ni, Po Li Ku Lun, and Fo Shih Pulo as referred to in the Tsing's famous enumeration of c. 692 AD.
Maps of the great voyages of Admiral Cheng Ho (Haji Mahmud, Ma San Bao – he was immortalized as "Sinbad the Sailor"), however, only mentioned the touching on Tanjong Dato and do not include Borneo as a whole.
The Great Idrisi map of 1154 AD shows the cartographical appearance of Borneo as Muja. The description given was that Muja is the islands in the South China Sea which lie to the south of Maid (Luzon), and on the east side of South China Sea. It is stated that the island produced civet musk (a peculiar export of Brunei according to Chau Ju-Kuo), and it produced camp for superior to that of all other countries.
Another map in the Great Idrisi world map shows six islands above the "gezira at kamar wajiha gezira malai", a composite name most probably for Khmer and the Malay Peninsula. All these six islands are marked as al kamarun which was the name of the royal family of early Borneo. Ibn Sa'id's compilation of 'Bast-al Ard" of geography referred to the island of Borneo as the Island of Kamrun, the land which produced the world's best camphor.
It is evidenced from the above that Borneo was known to the world with different names. To the Chinese, it was Poni, Poli, Bun Lai, to the Arab world it was called Kamrun or Muja and to the mediaeval Europe, different names were given but the most popular one is Java the Great.
Source: Early names of Borneo. Headline. Tourism News Detail. Date Posted: 5/24/2004. Source: Daily Express, 23 May 2004. Accessed on 30 May 2004. http://www.sabahtourism.com/news/details.asp?newsid=1695