Language of the Week: Week Eight - Lamalama

Welcome to Week Eight of the A-Z of Queensland Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages!

This week's language of the week is Lamalama, a language spoken on Eastern Cape York, particularly in the area around Princess Charlotte Bay and the Normanby River catchment. Lamalama is also known as Mbarrumbathama and may be written as Lama Lama, Lamu-Lamu and Korko Lama Lama. There are several dialects of Lamalama including coastal and inland varieties. Three languages, Mbarrumbathama, Rimanggudinhma and Morrobolam, form a genetic subgroup of Paman known as Lamalamic.

Lamalama is also used as a term to describe a group of people - Sutton in his work on Cape York languages refers to the Princess Charlotte Bay people as Lamalama. Following removals and the establishment of missions on Cape York, people at Port Stewart and Coen also described themselves as Lamalama. According to Austlang, there are only minimal speakers of Lamalama; however, community revival efforts are supported by the Pama Language Centre.

Sutton, McConvell, Rigsby, Thomson and Laycock have undertaken linguistic work on Eastern Cape York, including Lamalama - State Library collections hold several of their publications, while language recordings for Lamalama can be found in AIATSIS.

Laycock in his field work during the 1960's collected wordlists from several Lamalama speakers from Coen and Lockhart River Community - an extract of this work appears above and shows the distinction between inland and coastal varieties. According to Laycock, there are at least five languages within the Lamalamic group of languages; these include Lamalama, Parimankutinma and Umbuykamu.

There are community language revival efforts to maintain Lamalama including an Indigenous ranger program to care for country, including the Lama Lama National Park which became the first jointly managed National Park in 2008 in a partnership between the Lama Lama Land Trust and the Queensland Government. 

AIATSIS have worked with Traditional Owners and community language groups on Cape York to publish the first dictionary on Cape York languages in the past 20 years which features Lamalama and other languages of the Princess Charlotte Bay region. A Dictionary of Umpithamu is available through the AIATSIS Shop.

Join State Library for next week's Language of the Week - Mabuiag from Western Torres Strait!


Desmond Crump

Indigenous Languages Coordinator, State Library of Queensland

State Library of Queensland Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Languages Webpages

State Library of Queensland Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Languages Map


Spoken: Celebrating Queensland languages exhibition

Spoken Virtual Tour

Jarjum Stories exhibition

Minya Birran: What next for Indigenous Languages?



Cover image: Scenic location at the Normanby River, Cape York Peninsula (1984). Image No. 407-47-06

Eastern Cape York Languages, Sutton (1974).


References and Further Reading

State Library collections have some material relating to Lamalama and neighbouring languages; other language content can be found in generic language studies of Cape York.

Bassani, P., Lakefield, A. and Popp, T. (2006) Lamalama country : our country : our culture-way. Edited by Bruce Rigsby and Noelene Cole. P 305.89915 BAS

Kinslow Harris, J., Wurm, S. and Laycock, D. (1971) Papers in Australian linguistics, no. 4. Q 499.15 kin

Sutton, P. (ed) (1974) Languages of Cape York: papers presented to the Linguistic Symposium, Part B, held in conjunction with the Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies Biennial General Meeting, May,1974 G 499.15 1976


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Philip Port of Coen advised me that Ayapathu clan a sudden of Lama Lama are the traditional owners from Mt Croll in the north to Duckholes creek to the south. Your attached map indicates kaandju lands in just south of Coen. This is incorrect and the 1975 information from Lockhart and iron range is als not accurate. Philips mother is buried at mt Croll on the northern boundary. The ongoing misconception exacerbates the friction between both clan groups.