Plants and Place Names: A Case Study of Abui Toponymy

Shaun Tyan Gin LIM, Francesco PERONO CACCIAFOCO*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This paper investigates the influence of Abui plant names on Alor Island’s
toponyms.Abui is a Papuan language spoken in Alor Island (Alor-Pantar Archipelago, SouthEast Indonesia, Timor area). Although there are rich studies on the Abui culture and language, research on how botany, an important toponymic source, shapes toponymic patterns in Alor Island remains scant. Using Field Linguistics and Language Documentation methods, the authors and a local consultant have detailed the names of ten common Abui horticultural
andagricultural plants before matching them with toponyms in Alor Island to reconstruct their etymologies. Results show that toponyms in Alor Island derived from phytonyms are mostly transparent, named after plants in the area with the top toponymic sources being mea ‘mango’, wata ‘coconut’, and kanaai ‘canarium’. Oral stories are highly connected with the place naming process and are frequently used to explain how places received their names. This paper
would like to provide evidences and analyses as a starting point for further research on the links between Botany and Toponymy in Alor Island.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)121-142
Number of pages21
JournalReview of Historical Geography and Toponomastics
Issue number29-30
Publication statusPublished - 10 Dec 2020


  • Toponymy
  • Language Documentation
  • Botany
  • Abui
  • Toponomastics


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