From ancient times, the naturalistic beliefs enshrined in animism and shamanism have dominated the cultural landscape of Borneo and still do to this day, despite the enormous pressures frequently applied by the proselytisers of competing globalised religious brands.

Communion with the spirits of natural phenomena such as trees, animal and birds, rivers, rocks and mountains is a way of life crucial to the many tribes which inhabit the ancient forests of Borneo, traditions which stretch beyond measurable memory.

Each tribe has its own individual patterns of ritual behaviours according to its needs, with agricultural cycles and the interacting forces upon which they depend commonly an important feature for the attention of village shamans, who oversee sacrifices, placate evil or angry spirits, interpret birdsong and other omens.

Although this way of life has served its people perfectly well for countless thousands of years, the beliefs and the environment with which the Shamans interact is dwindling as commercial interests destroy their habitat and force different world views upon the peoples.

Many have adopted the inclusion of other deities in their pantheons to appease the waves of cultural incursions by preachers who think they know better. Nevertheless, the strong prevalence of animism throughout Southeast Asia has in turn influenced the practices of all the foreign imported beliefs which ply their trade here, which themselves incorporate many elements of local observance.

In the early centuries AD, trade with the northern kingdoms would bring the Indian traditions of Hinduism, itself a complex and elaborate cosmological shamanism, together with Buddhism into the Bornean world view, particularly following the establishment of the Srivijaya Empire, which engulfed much of Indonesia, Malaya and western Borneo. 

Its later successor empire, Majapahit, would also reinforce the influence of Hindu and Buddhist beliefs into the local pantheon, traces of which remain in many local tribal societies today. Chinese folk religions also entered through trade and migration from around 1000 AD.

As Majapahit fell into disunity, Islam began to fill the void, eventually spreading throughout Indonesia and into what is now Malaysia, giving rise to the Sultanates and has remained the majority religion among the Malay peoples ever since.

Christianity arrived, predictably enough in tow with the European explorers, and their accompanying missionaries had considerable superficial success among the tribal communities, happy enough to pragmatically include Jesus as a deity within their belief frameworks to satisfy the belief that they had been converted, whilst retaining the fundamentals of their cherished culture.

Between them, Islam and Christianity continue to harry the indigenous peoples into accepting their values, and vie with one another for dominance. Christianity is the most prominent religion in Sarawak, whilst Islam claims the majority in Sabah, having purposely brought in immigrants from the Philippines, Indonesia and Pakistan to ensure their continued control.

Under the period of British influence, the Chinese population swelled enormously through the import of migrant workers, the descendants of whom widely practice Buddhism, Christianity, Confucianism, Taoism and Chinese folk traditions.

Likewise, Indian migrants from British India brought a renewed Hindu presence to the island of Borneo, which also has a minority following among all the non-Malay groups. A small Sikh presence also retains its core values.

Freedom of Religion is ostensibly guaranteed in the Malaysian constitution though, in practice almost all the governors of Sabah and Sarawak have been Muslim. In addition to the biases to office, and opportunities in general, despite the great antiquity of its presence, the practice of animism is not included as a recognised belief in Malaysian national statistics.  

Although indigenous animism still thrives and, indeed, is a major draw for tourists, it is nowadays the seductions of the gods of money and portable technologies that draw the young away from their traditional communities and most threaten their long history.