Papua New Guinea

Papua New Guinea is located in the southwestern Pacific Ocean, and is surrounded by corral reefs. Officially the Independent State of Papua New Guinea, abbreviated as PNG, the country occupies the eastern half of the island of New Guinea, as well as numerous offshore islands. The western portion of the island is a part of the Indonesian provinces of Papua and West Papua. The capital of Papua New Guinea is Port Moresby.



Papua New Guinea is one of the most culturally diverse countries on Earth. There are over 830 different languages spoken in the country. Out of a population of about 6.2 million there may be 800 plus traditional societies as well.


Flag of PNG
The national flag of Papua New Guinea.


Another of its claims to fame is that Papua New Guinea is one of the most rural countries on Earth, with just 18% of of the population living in urban centres. The country is one of the least explored areas on the planet, and is belived to have many undiscovered species of plants and animals in it's interior.


Strong growth in the mining and resource sector has led to PNG becoming the seventh fastest-growing economy in the world as of 2011. Despite the impressive economic growth, many of Papua New Guinea's people live in extreme poverty. Approximately a third of the population live on less than US$1.25 per day.


The majority of PNG's population shoose to live in traditional societies and practice subsistence farming. These societies and clans have explicit acknowledgement and rights within the nation's constitution. Specifically, the PNG Constitution states that the desire it for "traditional villages and communities to remain as viable units of Papua New Guinean society", and for active steps to be taken in their preservation.


Papua New Guinea is the 54th largest country in the worlds, with a land mass of 462,840 km2, or 178,704 sq mi. The country's geography is diverse and extremely rugged in places. A mountain range, the New Guinea Highlands, runs the length of the island of New Guinea to form a highlands that is mostly covered with tropical rainforest. The New Guinea Highlands extends through the center of the country, starting at the border with Indonesia, all the way along the Papuan Peninsula, known as the "Bird's Tail". The highest peak is Mount Wilhelm at 4,509 metres, or 14,793 ft. Dense rainforests can be found in the lowlands and coastal areas, as well as large wetland areas surrounding the Sepik and Fly rivers.



The combination of rugged, mountainous terrain, dense rain forests, and extensive wetlands that make up most of PNG's land mass has made developing transportation infrastructure extremely difficult. In some areas, airplanes are the only mode of transport available.


Human remains have been found in Papua New Guinea that have been carbon dated to about 50,000 BC. These ancient inhabitants are believed to have migrated from Southeast Asia, from people whose ancestors had originated in Africa 50,000 to 70,000 years ago. New Guinea was first populated by modern humans at approximately the same time as Australia.


The People Of Papua New Guinea


Agriculture was independently developed in the New Guinea highlands around 7000 BC, making it one of the few areas in the world where people independently domesticated plants. Traders from Southeast Asia began visiting New Guinea 5,000 years ago to collect bird of paradise plumes.


Austronesian speaking peoples arrived and took up residence along the coastal regions roughly 500 BC. This has been correlated with the introduction of pottery, pigs, and certain fishing techniques. The sweet potato appeared in New Guinea during the 18th century, having been introduced to the Moluccas by Portuguese traders. The far higher crop yields from sweet potato gardens radically transformed traditional agriculture, with the sweet potato replacing taro, the previous staple crop, and gave rise to a significant increase in population in the highlands.


Many remote Papuan tribes have little, if any contact with the outside world. Headhunting and cannibalism occurred in many parts of the country as part of ritual practices, but has been virtually eradicated. The most notible discovery of cannibalism was recorded in 1901, on Goaribari Island in the Gulf of Papua. A missionary, Harry Dauncey, found 10,000 skulls in the island’s Long Houses. Documented instances of cannibalism indicate the practice survived in isolated areas into the seventies, and is rumoured to be still practiced within certain social groups.


The courts and government legislation uphold the constitutional rights to freedom of speech, thought, and belief. The 2000 government census found that 96% of citizens identified themselves as members of a Christian church; however, many citizens combine their Christian faith with some traditional indigenous religious practices.


The Naming Of Papua New Guinea


The country's dual name results from colonial times. The word papua is a local term of uncertain origin. "New Guinea" (Nueva Guinea) was the name coined by the Spanish explorer Ynigo Ortiz de Retez in 1545 because the people resembled those he'd seen along the Guinea coast of Africa. Beginning in 1884, the northern half of the country was a Germany colony for decades and known as German New Guinea. The southern half was colonised in the same year by the United Kingdom, and known as British New Guinea. With the passage of the Papua Act in 1904, administration was transferred to the newly formed Commonwealth of Australia who took over administration in 1905. Also in 1905, British New Guinea was renamed the Territory of Papua.


Coat of Arms


There are also approximately 4,000 Muslims in the country. Non-traditional Christian churches and non-Christian religious groups are active throughout the country. The Papua New Guinea Council of Churches has stated that both Muslim and Confucian missionaries are active, and foreign missionary activity in general is high.


Traditional religions, such as that of the Korowai, were often animist. Animism is the religious belief that natural phenomena, including animals, plants and sometimes even inanimate natural objects such as mountains, possess a spiritual essence.


Some also tended to have elements of ancestor worship, though generalisation is suspect given the extreme heterogeneity of Melanesian societies. Prevalent among traditional tribes is the belief in masalai, or evil spirits, which are blamed for "poisoning" people, causing calamity and death, and the practice of puripuri, which translated means "sorcery".