Papua New Guinea is one of the most unique and diverse countries that can be found in the world. Situated between Indonesia on the west, Australia on the south, and the culturally colourful Pacific islands on the north and east, Papua New Guinea (PNG) is a beautiful conglomeration of peoples and cultures.
PNG has a population of four million. The main languages of PNG are Tok Pisin, Hiri Motu, and English. But added to these are over 800 tribal languages - about 1/5 of all the languages in the world. Pisin is a creole language and is the most widely used and was developed as a trade language.
Geography and Climate
PNG is made up of an enormous variety of landscapes. Among the kinds of land are highlands, plateaus, valleys, savannahs, rain forests, mangrove swamps, gardens, plantations, island archipelagos, and coral reefs.
The co-ordinates of PNG are 6° S and 147° E, with a land area of 451,710 square kilometres, an area slightly larger than California. PNG is made up of about 600 islands. The climate of PNG is tropical with both the north west and south east monsoons reaching the islands. Situated on the Ring of Fire, earthquakes are common and active volcanoes exist. Rainfall is common year-round, although in most places there is a definite difference between the wet and dry seasons. Most of the area gets more than 2000 millimetres of rain a year, with some regions getting five times that number.
PNG, with an official name of 'Independent State of Papua New Guinea', was administered by Australia until 1975, when it gained its independence. The current government type is parliamentary democracy, but is formally still a constitutional monarchy. The British monarch is the head of state, represented by a Governor-General.
One of the main differentiating characteristics of PNG is the people. When man first immigrated to the islands, the density of brush and varying landform contributed to village life, with mainly small settlements existing greatly isolated from each other. This contributed to the formation of so many languages and as many separate cultures.
Technology as we know it did not come to PNG until the 20th Century, and therefore tools were very primitive. The people, however, developed very beautiful woodwork carving techniques, the process of weaving without a loom, and a way to press bark and dye it to make beautiful tapestry-like art. They developed many other artistic methods, in spite of this lack of technology, and the new tools and ideas of the modern age have not yet phased out their ancient artwork.
There are a few cultural taboos that should be noticed in PNG:
- Do not show mixed-gender affection in public. Men can hold hands, or women can hold hands, and it is a sign of friendship. Husbands and wives etc, should not.
- Avoid eye contact with strangers. It is considered asking for trouble.
Most other cultural practises are about the role of women. These include:
- Wearing at least knee length skirts.
- Not stepping over food or children (this makes what has been stepped over 'unclean' and is at the very least considered disrespectful).
- Not going somewhere alone.
A traveller in PNG, having done a basic study on the cultures and taboos prevalent in PNG, will, as a thoughtful and conscientious guest, be welcomed into the country. The people, for the most part, are friendly and welcoming. By finding a tour guide a visitor can enjoy and explore the many beautiful and amazing sights to see, from waterfalls to butterflies, amazing coral reefs to many species of the Bird of Paradise. Travellers should be aware though, that this is a developing country and can be dangerous and unrestful at times. Precautions need to be taken.
PNG's main exports are gold, copper, ore, oil, logs, palm oils, coffee, cocoa, tuna and other fish. There is also a very small niche market in lobster trade. They import machinery and transport equipment, manufactured goods, food, fuels, and chemicals. They receive economic aid from Japan, China, Britain and Australia, and have an external debt of $3.2 billion. As of today, the economy is still mainly agricultural, with a mostly rural population. Because of this dependence on the land, droughts such as the one affecting the country in 1997 caused serious harm to the economy, but this was a very unusual event.
Papua New Guinea is a land of adventure and beauty, and is easily identifiable by the characteristics presented above. The diversity of the nation only adds to its colour and charm.