Legendary Place Names: Coastal Micro-Toponomastics in Alor through the Lens of an Abui Myth

Activity: Talk or presentationPresentation at conference/workshop/seminar


This paper reconstructs a number of Abui (Papuan) place names and micro-toponyms from the coastal area of the Alor Island (South-East Indonesia) through the analysis of a legend about two gods of the Abui traditional religion and the replacement of the first with the second one. The myth appears as diachronically ‘multi-layered’, from ancestral times to the ‘arrival’ of the Christianity in the Alor Island and the consequent identification of the ‘bad’ (or ‘weaker’) god as a demon and, then, as the devil. The story allows the etymological explanation of the meaning of around eight place names (toponyms and micro-toponyms), drawing a map of that ‘mythological’ space and landscape that is still real, attested, existing, known, and recognized by Abui native-speakers. The etymological and historical / diachronic analysis of place names, in this case, is fruitful not only in the reconstruction of their origins and in map-tracking, but it also involves an anthropological study about cultural aspects of the oral tradition of Abui religion. The story here described is considered true (not a legend) by Abui people and all the place names part of that story are ‘felt’ and assumed by Abui people according to the features they have in the legend. These place names and micro-toponyms, therefore, show to have a relevance that goes beyond the etymological reconstruction, allowing important remarks in the fields of anthropology and history of culture and a close association between diachronic toponomastics and anthropological linguistics.
Period23 Jul 2015
Event title13th International Conference on Austronesian Linguistics: 13 ICAL, July 18-23, 2015, Academia Sinica, Taipei, Taiwan
Event typeConference
Conference number13
LocationTaipei, Taiwan, Province of ChinaShow on map
Degree of RecognitionInternational


  • Abui
  • Papuan Languages
  • Austronesian Languages
  • Alor
  • Language Documentation