People & Culture

The population of Sabah was 2,449,389 in 2000 and was the third most populous state in Malaysia after Selangor and Johor. It is estimated that Sabah's population has exceeded that of Johor with an estimated population of 3,400,000 in 2007. Sabah indeed has one of the highest population growth rates in the country.
  • Kadazan-Dusun: 17.8%
  • Rungus
  • Bajau: 13.4%
  • Malay: 11.5%
  • Murut: 3.3%
  • Other bumiputra: 14.6%
  • Chinese (majority Hakka): 13.2%
  • Other non-bumiputra: 4.8%
  • Non-Malaysian citizen: 25%

The people of Sabah are divided into 32 officially recognised ethnic groups. The largest immigrant ethnic group is the Chinese. Most Chinese people in Sabah are concentrated primarily at Kota Kinabalu, Sandakan, and Tawau. Kota Kinabalu has the highest concentration of Chinese people in Sabah, followed by Sandakan (second highest) and Tawau (third highest). The largest indigenous ethnic group is Kadazan-Dusun, followed by Bajau, and Murut. There is a very small number and proportion of Indians and other South Asians in Sabah compared to other parts of Malaysia. Collectively, all persons coming from Sabah are known as Sabahans and identify themselves as such.

Malay is the national language spoken across ethnicities, although the spoken Sabahan dialect of Malay differs much in inflection and intonation from the West Malaysian version, having more similarity in pronunciation to Indonesian. English, Mandarin as well as Hakka and Cantonese are widely understood. In addition, Kadazan-Dusun, Bajau, Murut and other smaller groups also have distinct ethnic languages. Sabah also has its own unique Sabahan-slangs for many words in Malay.

The federal government of Malaysia officially recognizes 28 ethnic groups as being indigenous or bumiputra in Sabah:

  • Orang Sungai
  • Brunei
  • Kedayan
  • Bisaya Beaufort
  • Tidong
  • Maragang
  • Orang Cocos
  • Paitan
  • Ida'an
  • Minokok
  • Rumanau
  • Chinese of mixed bumiputra parentage