Identification. The Rotinese have long taken their name from some version of their Indonesian island's name and combined this with a dialect word for "man" (Atahori Rote, Hataholi Lote). The principal name for Roti in ritual language is "Lote do Kale," and the expression for "man" is Hataholi do Dae Hena. The Rotinese insist that Rote or Roti is a Portuguese imposition. One seventeenth-century Dutch map shows the island as Nusa Da Hena, which would translate as the "Island of Man." By ancient tradition, the population is divided into two territorial divisions, Lamak-anan for the eastern half of the island, which is also known simply as "Sunrise," and Henak-anan for the western half, also known as "Sunset." Whether these names formerly had political or other significance is difficult to ascertain. This dual classification now serves to characterize differences in custom, dialect, and topography between the east and the west. Within these divisions, the island is subdivided into eighteen autonomous states, each ruled by its own "lord." These domains are the maximal native political units. Each domain cultivates its own distinctive variation of dress, speech, and customary law. The Rotinese tend to be of short stature, of light build, and of Malay appearance. They are characteristically identified by their broad, sombrerolike leaf hats.
Location. Roti, off the southwestern tip of Timor, is the southernmost island of the Indonesian archipelago. The Rotinese have migrated in large numbers to the northeastern plains of Timor, to Kupang, and to the island of Semau. There they work as rice growers, lontar tappers, retailers, and, in Kupang, as civil servants. Rotinese also live on Sumba and Flores. Because of a long tradition of education, many educated Rotinese are to be found in the large cities of Indonesia. Roti consists of level areas of cultivation, bare rolling hills, palm or acacia savannas, and occasional patches of secondary forest. The east monsoon (April to October) brings a dry season of gusty, hot winds. The west monsoon, which brings a sporadic rain, is irregular; it begins sometime between November and January and continues until April.
Demography. Census figures for 1980 record a population of just over 83,000. There are probably another 50,000 Rotinese on Timor and Semau. Chinese merchants and Indonesian government officials live in the town of Baä. Roti has traditionally assimilated the excess population from the tiny island of Ndao.
Linguistic Affiliation. Rotinese, according to Jonker, shows closest affinities with the Belu (Tetum) languages, Timorese (Uab Meto), Galoli, and Kupangese, and more distant affinities with the languages of Kisar, Leti, Moa, and Roma. Each of Roti's eighteen domains cultivates its own manner of speech, and Jonker distinguishes nine mutually intelligible dialects. One dialect, that of the central domain of Termanu, has gained some prominence as a lingua franca. The Rotinese, in addition, possess a form of ritual, poetic, or high language that crosscuts dialect boundaries. Included within the political boundaries of Roti is the small island of Ndao, whose population of approximately 3,500 persons speaks a distinct language closely related to that of the island of Savu.