The Motu are an Austronesian-speaking people who historically lived in the area that now Port Moresby, the capital of Papua New Guinea. They were heavily involved in trade, and their trading expeditions (hiri) played an important role in their ceremonial life. In historic times, Motu have played a prominent role in Papua New Guinea society and government.

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Traditional Culture(1872)Expand All +
Belief +

Supernatural Beings

Ancestral spirits Present, and the principal focus of supernatural practice (Source)
Groves (1991), pp. 215
Groves (2011), pp. 153-154
Deified ancestor(s) Absent (Source)
Groves (2011), pp. 153
God(s) Absent (Source)
Turner (1878)

Supernatural Punishment

Supernatural punishment for impiety Present (Source)
Pita & Price (1975), pp. 54

Afterlife and Creation

The actions of others after one has died can affect the nature of one's afterlife One factor in determining one's afterlife (Source)
Groves (1991), pp. 215

General Features

Forces of nature are controlled by or imbued with the supernatural Present (Source)
Gwilliam (1982), pp. 49

Classes of Tapu

Resource management tapu Present (Source)
Pita & Price (1975), pp. 54


Mana as a spiritual or religious concept Absent (Source)
Blust (2007)
Keesing (1984)
Blevins (2008)
Mana as a personal quality Absent (Source)
Blust (2007)
Keesing (1984)
Blevins (2008)
Mana related to social influence or technical skill Absent (Source)
Practice +

General Supernatural Practices

Largest religious community Larger than a household, no larger than the local community (Source)
Groves (1991), pp. 214, 215
Political and religious differentiation Considerable overlap between religious and political leaders (Source)
Groves (2011), pp. 80-81


Tooth pulling Absent from culture (Source)
Turner (1878)
Scarification Absent from culture (Source)
Turner (1878)
Piercing Present in culture, but not as a rite or feature of a rite (Source)
Turner (1878)
Tattooing Present in the culture as a rite or feature of a rite (Source)
Turner (1878)
Genital cutting Absent from culture (Source)
Turner (1878)
Social Environment +
Population 4500 (Source)
Groves (1991), pp. 213
Population of largest political community 100-999 (Source)
Groves (1991), pp. 212-214
Importance of Patrilateral descent High (Source)
Groves (1991), pp. 214
Importance of Matrilateral descent Medium (Source)
Groves (1991), pp. 214
Kinship system Hawaiian (Source)
Groves (1991), pp. 214
Polygamy Monogamy preferred, but exceptional cases of polygyny (Source)
Groves (1991), pp. 214
Turner (1878)
Marital residence Patrilocal or virilocal - with husband's kin (Source)
Groves (1991), pp. 214


(No) external warfare Frequent, occurring at least yearly (Source)
Groves (1991), pp. 215
Conflict within community Moderate (Source)
Groves (1991), pp. 214-215
(No) internal warfare Frequent, occurring at least yearly (Source)
Groves (1991), pp. 215
Isolation +
Contact with other cultures Frequent, through trade, warfare, travel, etc. (Source)
Groves (1991), pp. 213
Distance to closest landmass inhabited by a different culture (km) 0.0 (Source)
Groves (1991), pp. 212, 213
Distance to nearest continent 495.0 (Source)
Groves (2011), pp. xxii
Daft Logic Distance Calculator (2014)
Pre-Austronesian population Present: Clear evidence of human occupation prior to Austronesian settlement (Source)
Bellwood (1995), pp. 109
Hindu / Buddhist influence on supernatural belief No evidence of influence and not in region of known contact (Source)
Cribb (2000), pp. Map 2.21
Islamic influence on supernatural belief No evidence of influence and not in region of known contact (Source)
Cribb (2000), pp. Map 2.23
Christian influence on supernatural belief No evidence of influence and not in region of known contact (Source)
Groves (1991), pp. 212
Subsistence and Economy +

Land-based means of subsistence

Animal husbandry as a source of food Minor (Source)
Turner (1878)
Land-based hunting performed by individuals Minor (Source)
Turner (1878)
Land-based gathering Major (Source)
Oram (1977), pp. 83-84
Land-based hunting performed by one or more groups Minor (Source)
Turner (1878)
Agriculture / Horticulture Major (Source)
Groves (1991), pp. 213

Water-based means of subsistence

Fishing and water-based hunting performed by one or more groups Major (Source)
Turner (1878)
Groves (2011), pp. 148
Fishing and water-based hunting performed by individuals Major (Source)
Turner (1878)
Groves (2011), pp. 148
Water-based gathering Major (Source)
Groves (1991), pp. 213

Commercial Activity

Trade / wage labour as a source of food Major (Source)
Groves (1991), pp. 213
Turner (1878)
Metalworking Absent (Source)
Turner (1878)
Physical Environment +

Geographical Range of Culture

Number of islands inhabited by culture One (Source)
Groves (1991), pp. 212

Features of Island with Largest Culture Population

Island type (island with largest culture population or largest island if unknown) Continental island (Source)
O'Connell & Allen (2004), pp. 835
Island Size (km²) 821400.0 (Source)
'New Guinea' (2019)
Maximum elevation (meters) 4884.0 (Source)
'New Guinea' (2019)


Latitude -9.5 (Source)
Groves (1991), pp. 212
Google Maps (2014)
Longitude 147.1 (Source)
Groves (1991)
Google Maps (2014)
Post Contact History(1872-2014)Expand All +
Religious History +


Use of force in conversion Low (Source)
Goddard & Van Heekeren (2003), pp. 145
Adoption of a world religion Present and predominant (Source)
Groves (1991), pp. 215
Resident missionary involvement in conversion process Present, and from non-Austronesian societies (Source)
Goddard & Van Heekeren (2003), pp. 145
Groves et al (1958), pp. 123

Syncretic Movements

Syncretic religious movements Absent (Source)
Goddard & Van Heekeren (2003)
Secular History +

Demographic and Social Changes

Foreign government systems Present, and of high importance (Source)
Groves (1991), pp. 213
Immigration High (Source)
Eberhard (2020)
'Port Moresby' (2018)
Goddard & Van Heekeren (2003), pp. 148-149
Language shift Medium (Source)
Goddard & Van Heekeren (2003), pp. 148
Foreign education systems High (Source)
Gibson (2001), pp. 158
Goddard & Van Heekeren (2003), pp. 147-148

Economic Changes

Changes in means of subsistence High (Source)
Groves (1991), pp. 213

Modern Infrastructure

Vehicles and roads Present and widely used (Source)
Groves (1991), pp. 213
Air travel Present and long-distance (Source)
'Port Moresby' (2018)
Sea port Present (Source)
'Port Moresby' (2018)
National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (2009), pp. 168

Loss of Autonomy

Nature of loss of autonomy Largely voluntary (Source)
Groves (1991), pp. 213
Loss of political autonoomy Medium (Source)
Groves (1991), pp. 213
Current Culture(2014)Expand All +
Belief +

Religious Demographics

Unofficial religious syncretism Low (Source)
Goddard & Van Heekeren (2003)
Dominant world religion Christianity (Source)
Goddard & Van Heekeren (2003), pp. 145-146, 155
External Links
Bellwood, P. (1995). Austronesian Prehistory in Southeast Asia: Homeland, Expansion and Transformation. P. Bellwood, J.J. Fox, & D. Tryon (Eds.), The Austronesians: Historical and Comparative Perspectives (pp 113-114). Canberra, Australia: ANU Press.

Blevins, J. (2008). Some Comparative Notes on Proto-Oceanic *Mana: Inside and Outside the Austronesian Family. Oceanic Linguistics, 47 (2), 253-274. Retrieved from

Blust, R. (2007). Proto-Oceanic *Mana Revisited. Oceanic Linguistics, 46(2), 404-423. Retrieved from

Cribb, R. (2000). Historical atlas of Indonesia. Surrey, UK: Curzon Press.

Daft Logic Distance Calculator. (2014).

Eberhard, D. M., Simons, G. F., & Fennig, C. D. (eds.). (2020). Ethnologue: Languages of the World (23rd ed.). Dallas, TX: SIL International. Retrieved from

Gibson, J. (2001). Literacy and Intrahousehold Externalities. World Development, 29 (1), 155-166. Retrieved from

Goddard, M. & Van Heekeren, D. (2003). United and Divided: Christianity, Tradition and Identity in Two South Coast Papua New Guinea Villages. The Australian Journey of Anthropology, 14 (2), 144-159. DOI:10.1111/j.1835-9310.2003.tb00227.x

Google Maps (2014). Retrieved from

Groves, M. (1991). Motu. Encyclopaedia of World Cultures (Volume II, pp. 212-215). New York: G.K. Hall & Co.

Groves, M. (2011). The Motu of Papua: Tradition in a time of change. Vancouver, Canada: Webzines of Vancouver.

Groves, M., Price, A.V.G., Walsh, R.J., & Kooptzoff, O. (1958). Blood Groups of the Motu and Koita Peoples. Oceania, 28 (3), 222-238. Retrieved from

Gwilliam, J.W. (1982). Some Religious Aspects of the Hiri. The Hiri in History: Further Aspects of Long-Distance Motu Trade in Central Papua. Canberra, Australia: ANU Press.

Keesing, R. M. (1984). Rethinking "mana". Journal of Anthropological Research, 40(1), 137-156,

National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (2009). World Port Index Nineteenth Edition. Bethesda, MD: National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency

New Guinea (2019). Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Retrieved from

Oram, N. (1977). Environment, Migration and Site Selection in the Port Moresby Coastal Area. In Winslow, J.H. (Eds.) The Melanesian Environment, (74-99). Canberra, Australia: ANU Press.

O’Connell, J. F. & Allen, J. (2004). Dating the Colonization of Sahul (Pleistocene Australia-New Guinea): A Review of Recent Research. Journey of Archaeological Science, 31, 835-853. DOI: 10.1016/j.jas.2003.11.005.

Pita, R. & Price, A.V.G. (Translator). (1975). Traditional Motu Customs. Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea: Institute of Papua New Guinea Studies.

Port Moresby (2018). Encyclopaedia Britannica Online. Retrieved from

Turner, W.Y. (1878). The Ethnology of the Motu. The Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, 7, 470-499. Retrieved from

Vasey, D. E. (1982). Subsistence potential of the pre-colonial Port Moresby area, with reference to the hiri trade. Archaeology in Oceania, 17(3), 132-142.