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Tawau History, Malaysia

 Tawau is the third largest town of Sabah, Malaysia and the administrative head of the Tawau division.

Around 1890, Tawau was a small village with only 200 inhabitants. The vessel SS Normanhurst gets into Tawau in 1893. They brought along with them, gutta percha, dammar, Indian rubber, ivory and tortoise shell. They wanted to exchange the commodities for bird's nest, raisin, rattan and rubber.

Around 1898, Chinese settlers started pouring in. In 1895, the British administration assigned a Muslim Chinese, Mr. Kee Abdullah, the development of the region. Kee Abdullah built up Tawau as a business and commercial area by 1900.

Gradually a local government was established by the British North Borneo [Chartered] Company. By 1831, the population had rise to 1800. There were two very big plantations - Kubota Coconut Estates and the Kuhara Rubber and Manila Hemp Estates. There was no direct effect of the First World War on Tawau, which was gradually becoming a prosperous little town.

Dunlop Street and Man Cheong Street were the two main streets of Tawau, and most of the shophouses, hotels and lodgings were lined up against these two streets. The centre of the town was a field, with the sea on one side, and whitewashed timber-built buildings on three sides. The scene was prim and picturesque. After World War I, the Japanese erected a tower in the middle of the field. Traffic was handful, and the town was peaceful. The inhabitants belonged to different ethnicity, but they worked and lived in harmony. There was no electricity supply, main drainage or bank. There was only one telephone link. The post office and the Treasury played the tole of a bank. Water was supplied on trolleys with tubs set on them. The trolleys ran over narrow gauge lines directly from the Tawau river. The tubs were hauled by hand.

The Japanese owned the biggest estates, the Kuhara estates. There was an Estate hospital and a bank representative of a Japanese bank to help the Japanese people. They were involved in commercial fishing. Both men and women were involved in the industry. The men worked as crew on the fishing boat, while the women worked in the canning factory. They came and departed on Japanese ships. They did not leave any impact on the social and cultural life of Tawau.

Schools were run mainly by the Chinese community. Later the Roman Catholic Church provided English primary schools.

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