The population of Sabah is 3,206,742 as of the last census in 2010, with indigenous groups apparently making up 61.22 percent of the total population. Despite the clarity provided by the provisions under the Sabah Interpretation Definition of Native Ordinance, a large controversy exists with respect to who are the natives of Sabah, particularly due to the sudden jump in population over the last 10 years and discrepancies in official data.

Based on official statistics, the population of Sabah has grown from 929,299 in 1980 to 3.2 million in 2010. In the 2010 Census of Population and Housing, the three major groups of Kadazandusun, Murut and Bajau as well as ‘Other Bumiputera’ numbered 1.6 million or 50% of the total population. It is worthwhile to note that in the 2000 census, there was a significant proportion of indigenous groups categorised as ‘Other Bumiputera’ who formed 15% of the population, and the ‘Malay’ category who numbered 12% of the population. The ‘Malay’ category included Bugis groups whose migration could be traced to the post-World War II period or earlier, to work in logging camps and in the 1960s in the oil palm plantations of Sabah.

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