Mota Lava

Last updated
Native name:
Mota Lava.jpg
Mota Lava, viewed from space. The islet of Ra can be seen in this image at a point southwest of Mota Lava.
Womtelo Map-Banks-Vanuatu 1000.png
Location Pacific Ocean
Coordinates 13°42′S167°39′E / 13.7°S 167.65°E / -13.7; 167.65 Coordinates: 13°42′S167°39′E / 13.7°S 167.65°E / -13.7; 167.65
Archipelago Vanuatu, Banks Islands
Area24 km2 (9.3 sq mi)
Province Torba Province
Largest settlementLahlap
Population1640 (2009)
Pop. density67/km2 (174/sq mi)

Mota Lava or Motalava is an island of the Banks group, in the north of Vanuatu. It forms a single coral system with the small island of Ra.


The 2009 census figures [1] give a population of 1640 inhabitants (Mota Lava + Ra), which amounts to a population density of 67 people per km².


Geography and geology

With an area of 24 km2 (9.3 sq mi), Mota Lava is the fourth largest island in the Banks Islands, after Gaua, Vanua Lava and Ureparapara. It is the highest (411 m or 1,348 ft) of the eastern chain of islands, as well as the largest.

Ra, a small island of 50 ha (120 acres), is located 270 meters (886 ft) off the southern coast of Mota Lava. It is attached to it by high corals that one can wade through at low tide.

The climate on Mota Lava is humid tropical. The average annual rainfall exceeds 4000 mm. The island is subject to frequent earthquakes and cyclones.

The island is served by Mota Lava Airport.


Mota Lava is composed of at least five basaltic stratovolcanoes. Two of the cones, Vetman and Tuntog, are well-preserved. Vetman is a pyroclastic cone in the centre of the island with a breached summit crater. At the southwest end of the island, Tuntog is a composite cone with a 500 meters (1,640 feet) wide crater.

Geochemical analysis shows that the island's lava has a similar composition to that from nearby Mota and Ureparapara, as well as lava from the south of the country, but differs from material erupted in central Vanuatu. The latter region has been affected by the subduction of a submerged, extinct island arc complex called the D'Entrecasteaux Zone.

Name and language

In early 19th-century texts and maps, Mota Lava was called Saddle Island, after the distinctive saddle-shaped profile it presents when seen from a boat offshore.

The inhabitants of Mota Lava call the island Mwotlap, locally spelled M̄otlap (pronounced  [ŋmʷɔtˈlap] ). [2]

The language spoken by the inhabitants of Motalava is also called Mwotlap. It is the most widely spoken language in the Banks Islands, with about 2,100 speakers. The recently extinct Volow language also used to be spoken on Mota Lava.

An early attempt to transcribe the native name, both for the island and the language, yielded a form Motlav.

The name Mota Lava (or Motalava) caught on after it started being used by 19th-century missionaries to the island. They borrowed that name from the language spoken on neighbouring Mota.


Like the rest of Vanuatu, Motalava was first settled around the 12th century BCE by Austronesian navigators belonging to the Lapita culture. Archaeologists have found ancient obsidian in Motalava, Vanua Lava and Gaua, and they have found Lapita pottery on Motalava. [3] [4]

The island was first sighted by Europeans during the Spanish expedition of Pedro Fernández de Quirós, from 25 to 29 April 1606. The island’s name was then charted as Lágrimas de San Pedro (“St. Peter's Tears”, in Spanish). [5]

Related Research Articles

Torba Province

Torba is the northernmost province of Vanuatu. It consists of the Banks Islands and the Torres Islands.

Banks Islands

The Banks Islands are a group of islands in northern Vanuatu. Together with the Torres Islands to their northwest, they make up the northernmost province of Torba. The island group lies about 40 km (25 mi) north of Maewo, and includes Gaua and Vanua Lava, two of the 13 largest islands in Vanuatu. In 2009, the islands had a population of 8,533. The island group’s combined land area is 780 km².


Malakula Island, also spelled Malekula, is the second-largest island in the nation of Vanuatu, which is in Melanesia, a region of the Pacific Ocean.


Gaua is the largest and second most populous of the Banks Islands in Torba Province in northern Vanuatu. It covers 342 km².

Vanua Lava

Vanua Lava is the second largest of the Banks Islands in Torba Province, Vanuatu, after slightly larger Gaua.

Mwotlap is an Oceanic language spoken by about 2,100 people in Vanuatu. The majority of speakers are found on the island of Motalava in the Banks Islands, with smaller communities in the islands of Ra and Vanua Lava, as well as migrant groups in the two main cities of the country, Santo and Port Vila.

Mota Island

Mota is an island in the Banks group of northern Vanuatu, with a population of about 700.


Ureparapara is the third largest island in the Banks group of northern Vanuatu, after Gaua and Vanua Lava.

The word banua or vanua – meaning "land," "home," or "village" – occurs in several Austronesian languages. It derives from the Proto-Austronesian reconstructed form *banua. The word has particular significance in several countries.

The North Vanuatu languages form a linkage of Southern Oceanic languages spoken in northern Vanuatu.

Lakon[lakɔn] is an Oceanic language, spoken on the west coast of Gaua island in Vanuatu.

Kwakéa Island in Torba Province, Vanuatu

Kwakéa is an islet located east of Vanua Lava in the Banks Islands, Vanuatu. According to the 2009 census, it has a population of only 29.


Merelava is an island in the Banks Islands of the Torba Province of northern Vanuatu.

Merig Island in Torba Province, Vanuatu

Merig is a small island located 20 kilometres east of Gaua, in the Banks Islands of northern Vanuatu.

Ra Island

Rah or Ra is a small coral islet of 0.5 km2 (0.19 sq mi), located in the Banks group of northern Vanuatu. The same name also refers to the single village which is situated within this islet. There are massive rocks on the island.

Vot Tande Island in Torba Province, Vanuatu

Vot Tande is an uninhabited islet of the Banks Islands of northern Vanuatu. It is located about 50 km (31 mi) due north of the island of Mota Lava. The islet of Vot Tande has never been inhabited. It is host to thousands of sea birds—especially frigatebirds, which have given their name to the islet. It consists of two islands. The highest point of either of the islands is 64 meters above sea level.

Lemerig language Austronesian language spoken in Vanuatu

Lemerig is an Oceanic language spoken on Vanua Lava, in Vanuatu.

Volow is an Oceanic language variety which used to be spoken in the area of Aplow, in the eastern part of the island of Motalava, in Vanuatu.

Rowa Islands

Rowa Islands are an uninhabited archipelago in Torba Province of Vanuatu in the Pacific Ocean. The Rowa are a part of larger Banks Islands archipelago. The islands are a natural border between Melanesia and Polynesia; they are one of the most beautiful places in the South Pacific Ocean and an integral part of a vast system of atolls and reefs.


  1. "2009 National Census of Population and Housing: Summary Release" (PDF). Vanuatu National Statistics Office. 2009. Retrieved October 11, 2010.Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  2. Entry “M̄otlap” in the Online Mwotlap dictionary by A. François.
  3. Bedford, Stuart; Spriggs, Matthew (2008). "Northern Vanuatu as a Pacific Crossroads: The Archaeology of Discovery, Interaction, and the Emergence of the "Ethnographic Present"" (PDF). Asian Perspectives. 47 (1): 95–120. doi:10.1353/asi.2008.0003. hdl: 10125/17282 . ISSN   1535-8283 . Retrieved 2019-02-01..
  4. See p.86 of Reepmeyer, Christian (2009). "The obsidian sources and distribution systems emanating from Gaua and Vanua Lava in the Banks Islands of Vanuatu". Canberra, ACT: Australian National University.Cite journal requires |journal= (help).
  5. Kelly, Celsus, O.F.M. La Austrialia del Espíritu Santo. The Journal of Fray Martín de Munilla O.F.M. and other documents relating to the Voyage of Pedro Fernández de Quirós to the South Sea (1605-1606) and the Franciscan Missionary Plan (1617-1627) Cambridge, 1966, p.39, 62.