The Origins of the Motuan Place Names

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How many of us know the origins of the place names of our suburbs, or of the villages.

Below is an edited version of an article written in 1977 published in the Post Courier’s Weekender section.

I did some research on this recently and with the help of Mrs Percy- Chartton, who assisted with Motu derivations, came up with some interesting answers.

For an easy start, many readers will know that Hanuabada means “Big Village” (bada — big, hanua —village).

But what about “Iduabada” and “Porebada?”

“Idu” is probably from “iduka” a cape or point so we have “big cape” which describes the prominent point at Iduabada.

Porebada, a large coastal village to the west of Port Moresby, derives its name from the Motu word for sandbank, probably ofconsiderable importance to fishermen in the old days.

Cochrane, Percy, 1907-1980Cochrane, Renata Date1944-1966

Although most people think of Konedobu today as the “place of public servants”, the Motu speaker once recognized it by a geographical feature: a beach (kone) where there was deep water(dobu) for boats.

Taikone is a small village under the palms, build on a sandy beach and may be reached by a road which branches on near the golf course at Kaugere.

As we have learnt “kone” is a beach, and “tai” is from “taina” meaning “little”.

It is likely that Tuaguba (more correctly Touaguba in the Motu language) has its name connected with the “guba” or strong north westerly squall which, strikes along the coast during the wet season.

“Toua” means “strike” among other things, so with a little imagination we can see the connection : this sudden strike of squall over the exposed hill behind the Parliament House – the hill we now call Touaguba.

Boroko does not have such a story associated with its name. It is simply the name of a species of eucalyptus tree, common in the area.

Many readers will have been to Paga and Paga point. The name “Paga” apparently originates from a mistake by early Europeans. The Motu name for the area is Era Kurukuruna (turtle snout) so it is understandable that this name was not adopted (although “Era” has been connected to “Ela” for use in the title of well known Ela Beach).

The story has it that an early European asked a Papuan the name of the hill, at the same time touching him on the shoulder. The Papuan thought he was being asked the word for shoulder and answered “Paga”.

Cochrane, Percy, 1907-1980Cochrane, Renata 1952

Boera, a water-village west of Porebada, derives its name from the Motu word for “tired”.

Briefly, it may have received its name when its founders, who were tribespeople from the direction of the Gulf, decided to settle there, being so “tired” of travelling.

Koki (more correctly Koke) was probably derived from the Koitabu word “kogi”, which is the tree the
leaves of which were used for rolling cigarettes.

These grew at Koke and were visited by those wishing to collect their supply of cigarette “papers”.

The following are some literal translations of Motu place names, and your guess is as good as anyone’s
as to how these came to be used as placenames.

Tatana: from “tata” meaning “to run” or “to sail”.

Lea Lea: more correctly Rea Rea — to forget lose, miss, or fail.

Vabukori: vabu — widow or widower; kori — true.

Pari: Wet.

Tubusereia: Tubu grahdparent.

This article has merely touched the fringe of the fascinating study of place name origins. To read more on Port Moresby names click here.

Unattributed – Collection from ANU

Source: Article published in the Post Courier 1975