There is evidence of human habitation in what is now Papua New Guinea dating back 35,000 years. This is from an ancient site near Namatanai in New Ireland province called Matenkupkum. Other archaeological investigations in New Ireland have unearthed artifacts and food remains going back 20,000 years.
In more recent times, Papua New Guinea (abbreviated ‘PNG’), the eastern half of the island of New Guinea (the world’s second largest island), was partitioned in 1884 between Germany (‘German New Guinea’) and Great Britain (‘British Papua’). The Dutch controlled West Papua, which is today an Indonesian region known as Papua. Until Australian independence in 1901, the southeast portion of the island, also known as Papua, was held by the UK but governed by Australia, making it a colony of a colony. In 1914, the Australians contributed to the Allied war effort by taking control of German New Guinea, which they continued to govern as a Trust Territory under the League of Nations and (later) the United Nations. However, it was not just a case of disinterested colonization. Gold had been found in a number of locations and was quickly exploited. Large gold dredges may still be observed in the Bulolo and Wau areas.
During the Pacific War, New Guinea saw intense combat both on land (at Buin and along the Kokoda Track) and at sea (at the Battle of the Coral Sea). It was the first location in the war where the Japanese advance was slowed and ultimately reversed. Following the war, both New Guinea and Papua were governed from the administrative headquarters in Port Moresby, on Papua’s south coast. The nation, currently known as ‘Papua New Guinea,’ gained independence from Australia in 1975. Papua New Guinea is still the most populous nation in Melanesia. As economic stagnation, corruption, law and order issues, and a nine-year separatist rebellion on the island of Bougainville all combine to make the country less than a tropical paradise, the country fights to realize its independence aspirations.
Bougainville’s efforts to secede during the country’s independence led to a decision to provide the country’s provinces some political autonomy. Decentralization resulted in the formation of nineteen provincial governments, and the trend of splitting the nation into unviable administrative entities seems to be ongoing, with a decision in 2009 to divide both the Southern and Western Highlands provinces into three new provinces.
Papua New Guinea had 125,000 visitors in 2009, although only around 20% of them claimed themselves to be tourists. The land presents a real contradiction to the visitor. Getting around may be difficult due to the lack of tourism infrastructure outside of the major tourist destinations. However, the people of Papua New Guinea are very friendly and will go to considerable efforts to welcome visitors. Tourism is highly established and expanding in a few areas. Aside from them, the nation is 100% adventure tourism and is unsuitable for the novice or faint of heart.
The experience is memorable for anyone who can make it out here. The breathtaking natural beauty is just amazing. Its diverse flora and wildlife include vast populations of marsupials and birds, notably the Raggiana bird-of-paradise (the national emblem) and numerous tree kangaroo species. Divers compete for their interest with unspoiled coral reefs and magnificent World War II wrecks, and the trekking is out of this world.
Because of the difficult terrain, inter-tribal distrust, and different languages, inter-tribal marriage has been very rare until lately. Physical and facial appearance varies greatly across the country, from those who appear almost Polynesian in some coastal areas, to the short, stocky Highlanders, to the tall and statuesque people of the area around Rabaul in New Britain, and the dark-skinned inhabitants of Bougainville, who appear to be African.
Papua New Guinea’s central highlands were not charted until the 1930s, and they were not fully brought under government authority until the late 1960s. As a consequence, the people are just as fascinating as the landscape, vegetation, and wildlife. Papua New Guinea is often marketed as ‘the Last Unknown’ or a location where ‘Stone Age People’ may still be found. Of course, calling a Papua New Guinean a “stone age savage” is very impolite. While you may locate elderly guys who recall the first time they or anybody in their culture saw metal if you look hard enough, you’ll have a hard time locating anyone who hasn’t watched Titanic. Indeed, what makes Papua New Guinea so fascinating now is not its status as a living museum, but its remarkable vitality. Papua New Guineans have transformed the lowest learning curve in human history into one of the most colorful, and often quirky, experiments in modernity ever created by human beings. Papua New Guinea’s clash with world culture has been fierce and intriguing, with ceremonial attire made of human hair and rolled up Instant Noodle wrappers, rap in Pidgin English, and tribal warriors called ‘Rambo’ for their bravery in battle. So don’t be concerned about the destiny of ‘traditional culture’: the greatest concern in the barroom fight between Papua New Guinea and the global culture business is preventing Papua New Guinea from pummeling global culture to a pulp.