The coat of arms of Sabah was originally a kingfisher from 1982 to 1988. During that period the Sabah state government chose to adopt a state coat of arms that resembled Sarawak's hornbill, in memory of the two Borneo states' common history as vassal states of Brunei in the pre-British times. Sabah adopted a kingfisher because its indigenous Bajau sea gypsies, who are politically powerful in the state administration, and another powerful indigenous group, the Bruneians from Brunei, identify with the bird to a great extent. Both Bajaus and Bruneians were traditionally fishermen, and amongst Borneo natives, birds are considered messengers of the gods. The omen bird for the fishermen is the kingfisher. The majority native tribe, the interior-dwelling Kadazans or Dusuns, identify with the kingfisher to a lesser extent, as the bird is commonly found amongst their main occupational group, the rice farmers.
The current coat of arms of Sabah is officially established on 16 September 1988. The two arms carrying the Sabah State Flag represents unity and harmony among its multiracial citizens towards progress and success. The state motto "Sabah Maju Jaya", which means "Let Sabah Prosper".