Identification. At the time of their first recorded contact with Westerners, in 1872, the Austronesian-speaking people known as Motu lived in thirteen nucleated seaside villages on the south coast of the New Guinea mainland, immediately east and west of Port Moresby (9°29′ S, 147°8′ E), the first center of European settlement and the present capital of Papua New Guinea. One further Motu village was established subsequently. Three Motu villages, Elevala, Tanobada, and Hanuabada, were located close together on the shore of Port Moresby harbor, only a mile or so to the west of the present city's docks and commercial center. The Motu shared this coastline and its hinterland with a non-Austronesian-speaking people, the Koita, who occupied small residential enclaves in a number of Motu villages in addition to their own independent villages in the immediate hinterland. Today, Motu still inhabit the same fourteen seaside villages, though many of them have migrated from villages outside Port Moresby into its suburban residential areas. Most Motu villages were traditionally built over the water in tidal shallows, facing a barrier reef some distance offshore.
Location. From about April to November, when the southeast trade winds blow in from the sea, the Motu coast is hot and dry. Between November and March, the northwest monsoon brings some rain and increased humidity. The slopes, low hills, swamps, and valleys of the immediate hinterland behind and between Motu villages, where traditionally the Motu maintained gardens and occasionally hunted game, were sparsely covered with humid tropical savanna, mainly dry grass and stunted eucalypti. At the edges of the barrier reef, along the inshore beaches, and in the waters between, Motu fished.
Demography. Although no precise figures are available, from the random observations of early missionaries and other visitors the total population of all Motu villages at the time of first contact, including the small Koita minorities in some Villages, has been estimated at between 4,000 and 5,000. Subsequently, in the early decades of colonization, there were increases and decreases in particular villages and a slight but not spectacular increase overall. After World War II, However, with rapid urbanization, a shift from a subsistence Economy to wage labor, and improved medical services, the Motu population began to increase rapidly. For example, village population records show that the total population resident in the fourteen Motu villages increased between 1954 and 1968 from approximately 7,500 to 13,500. Precise figures on a Village basis are no longer available, but the Motu population has continued to increase rapidly and may now number more than 25,000. Doubtless because of their proximity to Port Moresby, the Motu have played a role in the history and development of Papua New Guinea disproportionate to their numbers.
Linguistic Affiliation. In common with some other Peoples scattered over Papua New Guinea's coastal periphery and offshore islands, the Motu speak an Austronesian Language, classified in the Central Family, Eastern Subgroup.