SEMPORNA was founded soon after the British North Borneo Chartered Company established Sandakan, and initially settled by Chinese traders, most fleeing from Spanish attacks on the Sulu Sultanate. Before being named “Semporna”, this area was known as “Tong Talun” in Bajau language which means “Hujung Hutan” in Malay or “at the end of the forest” in English. The name gradually evolved to Semporna (known as Peaceful Place) over time. Semporna is located at the tip of Semporna Peninsula around Lahad Datu (also known as Darvel Bay), and is visited by tourist as base for scuba diving or snorkelling trips to Pulau Sipadan, some 36 km southeast of town.
The Majority of the population is Bajau, many of whom live in sprawling stilt villages over the water on the outskirts of town. Thousands of Bajau Laut (also known as the Sea Gypsies or Pala’u) people live on the sea around Semporna. They are one of the few nomadic seaborne peoples of the world, and spent most of their livers on boats, making a livelihood from the coral reefs in the sea. For some Bajau Laut people, the only time their bodies spend any extended time on land is when they are buried after death.