Papua New Guinea

Papua New Guinea may well be the most linguistically and culturally diverse nation in the world. It is also one of the least explored, partly because of the rugged terrain with its steep mountain valleys and consequent difficulties in travelling about. About 80 per cent of the population lives in rural areas in traditional societies, having little contact with each other, let alone the outside world. As a result, there are over 700 indigenous languages and myriads of different cultures.

Papua New Guinea occupies the eastern half New Guinea island; the Indonesian province of West Papua (Irian Jaya) is to its west. Papua new Guinea is located to the north of Australia, and encompasses many outlying islands. The nations capital is Port Moresby and has a total area of 462,840 sq km. As of 2015, the population was 6.5 million people.

Melanesian villages are full of ancient customs and rituals unchanged for centuries. Many still live a subsistence-based lifestyle – hunting, fishing and growing crops of taro and cassava while living in homes made of materials from the forest. There are coming-of-age ceremonies that involve painful body scarring and others that involve nothing more than fancy hairdressing. Christian missionaries have tried to eradicate the animistic religions of remote tribes; but many traditional beliefs still hold sway.

In recent decades, wealth from mining and logging has caused social divisions and violence. Unfortunately, law and order remains poor or very poor in many parts of the country. There has also been criticism of Papua New Guinea’s human rights record, with reports of refugees in the country being the targets of xenophobic attacks, along with police brutality. Papua New Guinea has strong ties with its southern neighbour, Australia, which administered the territory until independence in 1975. Australia’s substantial aid program aims to relieve poverty and to boost development.

In 2013 there were 168,000 international tourism arrivals to Papua New Guinea. Small-scale village tourism offers a more environmentally and socially friendly way to earn income for the essentials of modern life, such as outboard engines and fees for the local school. Among scuba divers, Papua New Guinea is famed for its marine biodiversity and many claim that its seas have the best diving in the world. There are many active volcanoes on the island, such as Mount Tavurvur, which erupted in 2014.

On the tallest snow-capped island on the planet, life is as varied as the landscape: from the cool, wet highland interior where birds of paradise display their plumes, down to the rainforest-clad banks of the mighty Sepik River, full of crocodiles, to low coral-fringed islands. Many undiscovered species of plants and animals are thought to exist in the interior.