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The earliest known human settlement in Sarawak at the Niah Caves dates back 40,000 years. A series of Chinese ceramics dated from the 8th to 13th century AD was uncovered at the archaeological site of Santubong. The coastal regions of Sarawak came under the influence of the Bruneian Empire in the 16th century. In 1839, James Brooke, a British explorer, arrived in Sarawak. He, and his descendants, governed the state from 1841 to 1946. During World War II, it was occupied by the Japanese for three years. After the war, the last White Rajah, Charles Vyner Brooke, ceded Sarawak to Britain, and in 1946 it became a British Crown Colony. On 22 July 1963, Sarawak was granted self-government by the British and subsequently became one of the founding members of the Federation of Malaysia, established on 16 September 1963. However, the federation was opposed by Indonesia leading to a three-year confrontation. The creation of the Federation also resulted in a communist insurgency that lasted until 1990.
Sarawak is nicknamed "Land of the Hornbills" (Bumi Kenyalang). These birds are important cultural symbols for the Dayak people, representing the spirit of God. It is also believed that if a hornbill is seen flying over residences, it will bring good luck to the local community. Sarawak has eight of the world's fifty-four species of hornbills, and the Rhinoceros hornbill is the state bird of Sarawak.
Between 1853 and 1862, there were a number of uprisings against the Brooke government but all were successfully contained with the aid of local tribes. To guard against future uprisings, a series of forts were constructed to protect Kuching, including Fort Margherita, completed in 1871. By that time Brooke's control of Sarawak was such that defences were largely unnecessary.
Since the 2006 state election, the Democractic Action Party (DAP) has derived the majority of its support from urban centres and became the largest opposition party in Sarawak. In 2010, it formed the Pakatan Rakyat coalition with Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) and Parti Islam Se-Malaysia (PAS); the latter two parties had become active in Sarawak between 1996 and 2001. Sarawak is the only state in Malaysia where West Malaysia-based component parties in the BN coalition, especially the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), have not been active in state politics.
There are thirty national parks, among which are Niah with its eponymous caves, the highly developed ecosystem around Lambir Hills, and the World Heritage Site of Gunung Mulu. The last contains Sarawak Chamber, one of the world's largest underground chambers, Deer Cave, the largest cave passage in the world, and Clearwater Cave, the longest cave system in Southeast Asia.
The export-oriented economy is dominated by liquefied natural gas (LNG), which accounts for more than half of total exports. Crude petroleum accounts for 20.8%, while palm oil, sawlogs, and sawn timber account for 9.0% collectively. The state receives a 5% royalty from Petronas over oil explorations in its territorial waters. Most of the oil and gas deposits are located offshore next to Bintulu and Miri at Balingian basin, Baram basin, and around Luconia Shoals.