Wester Pantar (Lamma)

Harvest on Pantar Island (Photo: Gary Holton)

The language referred to here as "Western Pantar" (WP) is spoken by approximately 10,804 people on the island of Pantar in southeastern Indonesia, in the province of Nusa Tenggara Timur (NTT). The language is commonly referred to in the literature as "Lamma," though technically this term designates only one variety or dialect of the language. WP is one of at least five non-Austronesian languages spoken on the island: the others being Nedebang, Blagar, Teiwa, and Tereweng. An Austronesian language, Alorese (ISO 639-3: aol), is also spoken in some areas of the island.

Western Pantar is spoken in the western half of the island of Pantar, the second largest island in the Regency (kabupaten) of Alor, part of the eastern Indonesian province of Nusa Tenggara Timur. The island is about 50 km north-to-south, and varies from 11 to 29 km in east-west width. It has an area of 728 km2 and is hence the largest island in Indonesia to lack both regular air transport and a fixed wing landing strip.

The Western Pantar region is generally flat, bordered on the southwest by a range of volcanic peaks rising to 900 m, including the active volcano Mt. Sirung. The west coast is separated by a range of smaller hills. These two mountain ranges form the remains of a collapsed vocanic crater, the southern portion of which is now submerged.

Climatically, the region is characterized by distinct dry and rainy seasons. Heaviest rainfall occurs between January and February. However, due to the impermeable volcanic soils and the flat terrain little of this rainfall is retained. Little or no rain fall during the dry season between June and November. Agriculture follows a shifting cultivation system, with fields being rotated every 3-5 years. Clearing and burning of fields occurs in August and September. Staple crops of rice and maize are planted just as the rains begin in December. Harvest occurs in March and April. Virtually no crops are grown during the dry season which follows the main harvest.

Oblique view of Pantar Island looking northeast (Google Earth)
Oblique view of Pantar Island looking northeast (click to view in Google Earth)


The three major dialects are distinguished primarily by lexical differences in a relatively few items of basic vocabulary. Some examples are given below. Phonological features which characterize the dialects are relatively few. Lamma tends to retain final l. And Mauta tends to have full vowels where Tubbe has diphthongs. Thus, Tubbe pia 'descend' and kuang 'moko' correspond to Mauta pi and kong, respectively.

A fourth dialect, Illu, is now remembered by a few elderly speakers in the village of Illu, but was once spoken across a much wider region.

Tubbe Mauta Lamma   
niarnissarniba'my father'
niakunebunekul'my younger sibling'
niuniaunau'my mother'
ganiakaganeka(r)ginaka'see (it)'

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