The Rajang River in Sarawak on the island of Borneo is Malaysia’s longest river at 350 miles. Throughout time, Malaysia’s rivers have served as integral parts of the country’s culture and economic development. Rivers are significant for the indigenous communities, for whom rivers are a part of their identities. Rivers and streams in Malaysia account for 98% of the country’s water supply, while the rest is from ground water.
The Rajang River stretches 350 miles from its source in the Iran Mountains to the South China Sea in Malaysia. Historically, the river has been significant to the Iban people, renowned headhunters who were and still are concentrated along the river’s banks in Sarawak. The Iban community also used the river’s water for agriculture and the river continues to be critical in pepper, pineapples, and cotton cultivation. The river supports various economic activities including fishing, transportation, trade through its river ports, and tourism. The Chinese town of Sibu is perhaps the most prosperous along the river’s banks and is home to a large port and numerous markets. The jungles along the river’s banks are home to 30 identified mammal species, including deer, langurs, gibbons, wild pigs, black giant squirrels, and tarsiers. Crocodiles and monitor lizards are a common sight in the river alongside over 100 fish species including the Semah and Empurau. Hornbills, Asian Glossy Starling, the Pacific swallow and the endemic Dusky Munia, are among the abundant bird species sighted in the river’s ecosystem. Parts of the river are environmentally compromised by logging and chemical pollution.
The Kinabatangan River is the second longest river in Malaysia, and it is located on the island of Borneo with a length of 348 miles. The river is a critical aspect of the Borneo Island’s forests, and it rises from the mountains of southwest Sabah flowing into the Sulu Sea. Historically, traders penetrated Borneo’s forests in pursuit of rhinoceros horns, hornbill’s casques, and elephant ivory to trade with wealthy Chinese to earn lucrative returns. The river is renowned for being home to 10 species of primates including the indigenous proboscis monkey and orangutans. The Asian elephant, crocodiles, snakes, leopards, Malay sun bear, and 200 bird species such as the hornbill inhabit the river’s ecosystem. The river has attracted a booming tourism industry with the popularity of activities such as treks and boat rides. The forests alongside the river have been a victim of rampant deforestation while poaching has severely impacted on the wildlife. Conservation efforts include the Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary founded in 2005.
Stretching 285 miles from the Titiwangsa Mountains to the South China Sea is the Pahang River. The river has been significant for navigation in the medieval times, linking Malay Peninsula’s east and west coasts between the 15th and 16th Centuries. Settlers subsequently harnessed the river’s water for use in coconut and rubber plantations. The river in modern day Malaysia is critical for water supply not only in Pahang State but all other states located in Peninsular Malaysia. The river is also used by communities alongside its banks for fishing and agriculture. Rampant deforestation has caused dangerous occurrences of massive flooding during the monsoon season.
The Perak River flows for 249 miles to become the second largest river in Peninsular Malaysia after the Pahang River. The river begins from Kelantan and flows to the Straits of Malacca. Historically, the river was important to the Perak Sultanate and its people. The river assumed an important role in royal ceremonies. In modern day, the river is economically important for rice and rubber cultivation, fishing, tourism, and for hydro-power generation. The river’s ecosystem support wildlife including tigers and elephants and the critically endangered river terrapin. The river’s water quality has however been continuously compromised in the face of pollution and deforestation.
Other Major Malaysian Rivers
Other major rivers in Malaysia, and their respective lengths, include the Baram at 249 miles in length, followed by the Kelantan (154 miles), Johor (76 miles), Klang (75 miles), Sarawak (75 miles), and Kinta (62 miles). The sustainability of Malaysia’s rivers has been an environmental concern for the government in the face of rapid development. Increasingly, the country’s rivers have been scenes of flooding or reduced water flow and pollution, which impact on a significant population’s livelihood.