Where is Papua New Guinea?
Papua New Guinea is a land of contrast and great diversity which reaches north from Australia to the equator. It includes about half of the world's second largest island and has islands stretching east from Indonesia about one thousand miles. It is a country full of cultural, geographic and ethical surprises. It is called "The Land of the Unexpected."
Papua New Guinea became an independent nation in a peaceful separation from its relationship to Australia as a Territory, on September 16, 1975.
Papua New Guinea has over 800 different languages. In practical terms, that means you might not be able to communicate with people on the other side of the hill. Each language group has its own system of beliefs and cultural norms. While having great diversity, most people groups have an animistic system of beliefs which affect their customs and practices from birth and death to planting gardens and relating to relatives. The belief that manipulation of the spirits will bring them wealth and prosperity is a common theme of the "cargo cult" that prevails in current PNG culture. Much of Papua New Guinea has the major religions of various names, mostly "christian", but, under the facade, animistic beliefs are practiced to resolve real problems in day to day living.
Papua New Guinea was a major battle zone in WWII and both sides fought for the South Pacific. The land and sea are littered with equipment and ordnance left by the departed armies. Pieces of corroding aircraft, ships, motorcycles, submarines, cannon, anti-aircraft guns, and mortars can be found without too much difficulty around old WWII places of military occupation.
The main island is shared with Indonesia. The Indonesian side has been known as "Irian Jaya," "West Irian," "Indonesian Papua" and "West Papua." The north coast of the main island is the site of the Aitape tsunami disaster of July 1998. There are many miles of beautiful empty white beaches. The waters and reefs near New Britain are rated number one (Walindi) in the underwater world of divers.
Not far from any beach are towering rugged mountains, many of them volcanoes of the Pacific Ring of Fire. With mountains rising to 13,000 feet above sea level, PNG is a land of contrasting climate as well as terrain. The coastal areas normally have temperatures of 80 to 95 degrees F and very high humidity. The highlands, though humid, have temperatures ranging from 40 to 90 degrees F (usually all in one day!). According to some, the highlands have the world's most favorable climate.
PNG has 849 languages among 4 million people (SIL Ethnologue). Such contrast in language and culture within a small geographical area makes PNG a land with much conflict. Well established tribal cultures clash with each other and with the encroaching westernization of their country. It is a land of volatile people bound by cultural indebtedness and fear. Tremendous resources of wood, coconut, palm oil, gold, copper, oil and natural gas are sought by global companies and fought over by the local landowners.
A member of the Commonwealth of Nations, Papua New Guinea recognizes Queen Elizabeth II as the head of state, has a Constitution along with a Prime Minister and an elected Parliament who handle matters of state.