Papua New Guinea

The Independent State of Papua New Guinea, often referred to by just the initials PNG, is a country in Oceania, occupying the eastern half of the island of New Guinea (the other half is the Papua province of Indonesia). It is in the southwestern Pacific Ocean, north of Australia and west of the Solomon Islands. Its capital is Port Moresby and by some historians it is called the "last frontier". Central Papua New Guinea is mostly highlands, while the coasts are humid tropical climate, giving way to rainforests. The population has grown in recent years, now 5.7 million. Inflation is 7.5%, and the GDP growth is 2.3%. Papua New Guinea has many languages, with 3 languages spoken per adult. It is also hard to get around; flying on planes is the most widespread way foreigners and high ranking officials get around, and there are 599 airports. Papua New Guinea gained independence in 1975 and since then, has been called a developing nation, but has made many strides.

Papua New Guinea
Missing image
Flag of Papua New Guinea

Coat of Arms of Papua New Guinea
(Flag) (Coat of Arms)
Anthem: O arise all you sons of this land
Location of Papua New Guinea
Capital Port Moresby
Template:Coor dm
Largest city
Official languages English, Tok Pisin, Hiri Motu
Government Constitutional monarchy
Elizabeth II
Sir Paulias Matane
Sir Michael Somare
 - Self-governing
 - Independence
From Australia
December 1, 1973
September 16, 1975
 • Total
 • Water (%)
462,840 km² (53rd)
 • 2000 est.
 • 2000 census
 • Density
4,927,000 (108th)

11/km² (108th)
 • Total
 • Per capita
2003 estimate
$2.78 billion (140th)
$556 (164th)
Currency Kina (PGK)
Time zone
 • Summer (DST)
not observed (as of 2005) (UTC+10)
Internet TLD .pg
Calling code +675


First Arrivals

Archeological evidence indicates that humans arrived on New Guinea at least 60,000 years ago, probably by sea from Southeast Asia during an iceage period when the sea was lower and distances between islands shorter. For an overview of the geological history of the continent of which New Guinea is a part, see Australia-New Guinea.

Although the first arrivals were hunters and gatherers, early evidence shows that people managed the forest environment to provide food. There also are indications of gardening having been practiced at the same time that agriculture was developing in Mesopotamia and Egypt. Early garden crops--many of which are indigenous--included sugarcane, Pacific bananas, yams, and taros, while sago and pandanus were two commonly exploited native forest crops. Today's staples--sweet potatoes and pigs--are later arrivals, but shellfish and fish have long been mainstays of coastal dwellers' diets.

European Explorers

When Europeans first arrived, inhabitants of New Guinea and nearby islands--while still relying on bone, wood, and stone tools--had a productive agricultural system. They traded along the coast, where products mainly were pottery, shell ornaments, and foodstuffs, and in the interior, where forest products were exchanged for shells and other sea products.

The first Europeans to sight New Guinea were probably the Portuguese and Spanish navigators sailing in the South Pacific in the early part of the 16th century. In 1526-27, Don Jorge de Meneses accidentally came upon the principal island and is credited with naming it "Papua," a Malay word for the frizzled quality of Melanesian hair. The term "New Guinea" was applied to the island in 1545 by a Spaniard, Ynigo Ortis de Retez, because of a fancied resemblance between the islands' inhabitants and those found on the African Guinea coast. Although European navigators visited the islands and explored their coastlines for the next 170 years, little was known of the inhabitants until the late 19th century.

German New Guinea

With Europe's growing desire for coconut oil, Godeffroy's of Hamburg, the largest trading firm in the Pacific, began trading for copra in the New Guinea Islands. In 1884, Germany formally took possession of the northeast quarter of the island and put its administration in the hands of a chartered company. In 1899, the German imperial government assumed direct control of the territory, thereafter known as German New Guinea. In 1914, Australian troops occupied German New Guinea, and it remained under Australian military control through World War I, until 1921. The British Government, on behalf of the Commonwealth of Australia, assumed a mandate from the League of Nations for governing the Territory of New Guinea in 1920. It was administered under this mandate until the Japanese invasion in December 1941 brought about the suspension of Australian civil administration.

Territory of Papua

On November 6, 1884, a British protectorate was proclaimed over the southern coast of New Guinea and its adjacent islands. The protectorate, called British New Guinea, was annexed outright on September 4, 1888. The possession was placed under the authority of the Commonwealth of Australia in 1902. Following the passage of the Papua Act of 1905, British New Guinea became the Territory of Papua, and formal Australian administration began in 1906. Papua was administered under the Papua Act until it was invaded by the Japanese in 1941, and civil administration suspended. During the war, Papua was governed by a military administration from Port Moresby, where Gen. Douglas MacArthur occasionally made his headquarters. As noted, it was later joined in an administrative union with New Guinea during 1945-46 following the surrender of Japan.

The Territory of Papua and New Guinea

Following the surrender of the Japanese in 1945, civil administration of Papua as well as New Guinea was restored, and under the Papua New Guinea Provisional Administration Act, 1945-46, Papua and New Guinea were combined in an administrative union.

The Papua and New Guinea Act of 1949 formally approved the placing of New Guinea under the international trusteeship system and confirmed the administrative union of New Guinea and Papua under the title of "The Territory of Papua and New Guinea." The act provided for a Legislative Council (established in 1951), a judicial organization, a public service, and a system of local government. A House of Assembly replaced the Legislative Council in 1963, and the first House of Assembly opened on June 8, 1964. In 1972, the name of the territory was changed to Papua New Guinea.


Elections in 1972 resulted in the formation of a ministry headed by Chief Minister Michael Somare, who pledged to lead the country to self-government and then to independence. Papua New Guinea became self-governing on December 1, 1973 and achieved independence on September 16, 1975. The 1977 national elections confirmed Michael Somare as Prime Minister at the head of a coalition led by the Pangu Party. However, his government lost a vote of confidence in 1980 and was replaced by a new cabinet headed by Sir Julius Chan as prime minister. The 1982 elections increased Pangu's plurality, and parliament again chose Somare as prime minister. In November 1985, the Somare government lost a vote of no confidence, and the parliamentary majority elected Paias Wingti, at the head of a five-party coalition, as prime minister. A coalition, headed by Wingti, was victorious in very close elections in July 1987. In July 1988, a no-confidence vote toppled Wingti and brought to power Rabbie Namaliu, who a few weeks earlier had replaced Somare as leader of the Pangu Party.

Such reversals of fortune and a revolving-door succession of prime ministers continue to characterize Papua New Guinea's national politics. A plethora of political parties, coalition governments, shifting party loyalties and motions of no confidence in the leadership all lend an air of instability to political proceedings.

Under legislation intended to enhance stability, new governments remain immune from no-confidence votes for the first 18 months of their incumbency.

A nine-year secessionist revolt on the island of Bougainville claimed some 20,000 lives. The rebellion began in early 1989, active hostilities ended with a truce in October 1997 and a permanent cease-fire was signed in April 1998. A peace agreement between the Government and ex-combatants was signed in August 2001. A regional peace-monitoring force and a UN observer mission monitors the government and provincial leaders who have established an interim administration and are working toward complete surrender of weapons, the election of a provincial government and an eventual referendum on independence.

Politics and Government

There are three levels of government: national, provincial, and local.


Papua New Guinea (PNG) is a constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary democracy. As a Commonwealth Realm, PNG recognizes the king or queen of the United Kingdom as head of state who is represented by a Governor-General. The Governor General is elected by Parliament, appointed by the monarch and performs mainly ceremonial functions.

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Current Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea, Sir Michael Somare.

The head of government is the Prime Minister, elected by the 109-member unicameral Parliament.

Members of Parliament are elected every five years from the 19 provinces and the national capital district of Port Moresby. . The Prime Minister appoints his cabinet from members of his party or coalition. Since independence members have been elected by the first past the post system. Winners often being elected with less than 15% of the vote.

Instability and corruption led Transparency International and the European Union to successfully promote the Limited Preferential Vote system, a modified version of Alternative vote, for future elections in PNG. The first general election to use LPV will occur in 2007.

Papua New Guinea's judiciary is independent of the government. It protects constitutional rights and interprets the laws. There are several levels, culminating in the Supreme Court.

There are many parties, but party allegiances are not strong. Winning candidates are usually courted in efforts to forge the majority needed to form a government, and allegiances are fluid. No single party has yet won enough seats to form a government in its own right.

Papua New Guinea has a history of changes in government coalitions and leadership from within Parliament during the 5-year intervals between national elections. New governments are protected by law from votes of no confidence for the first 18 months of their incumbency, and no votes of no confidence may be moved in the 12 months preceding a national election.

The last national election was held in June 2002, Sir Michael Somare was elected Prime Minister, a position he also held in the country's first parliament after independence. Supplementary elections were held in Southern Highlands province in June 2003 after record levels of electoral fraud and intimidation during the 2002 polls.

A study published in December 2004 found that PNG's weak government and policing has allowed organized crime gangs to relocate from Southeast Asia in recent years.


Chief of state: Queen Elizabeth II (since February 6, 1952), represented by governor general Sir Paulias Matane (since June 29, 2004). Not elected: the monarch is hereditary and the governor general appointed by the National Executive Council.

Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister appointed by the Governor General for up to five years on the basis of majority support in National Parliament.


An unicameral National Parliament - referred to as the House of Assembly with 109 seats, 89 elected from open electorates and 20 from provincial electorates; members elected by popular vote to serve five-year terms. The last election was held June 2002 (next due June 2007).

Judicial branch

Supreme Court, the Chief Justice is appointed by the Governor General on the proposal of the National Executive Council after consultation with the Minister responsible for justice, other judges are appointed by the Judicial and Legal Services Commission

International organization participation

ACP, APEC, AsDB, ASEAN (observer), C, CP, ESCAP, FAO, G-77, IBRD, ICAO, ICFTU, ICRM, IDA, IFAD, IFC, IFRCS, IHO, ILO, IMF, IMO, Intelsat, Interpol, IOC, IOM (observer), ISO (correspondent), ITU, NAM, OPCW, Sparteca, SPC, SPF, UN, UNCTAD, UNESCO, UNIDO, UPU, WFTU, WHO, WIPO, WMO, WTO

Description of flag

Divided diagonally from upper hoist-side corner; the upper triangle is red with a soaring yellow bird of paradise centered; the lower triangle is black with five white five-pointed stars of the Southern Cross constellation centered


Reforms in June 1995 changed the provincial government system. Regional (at-large) members of Parliament became provincial governors, while retaining their national seats in Parliament.

20 provinces: Bougainville, Central, Chimbu, Eastern Highlands, East New Britain, East Sepik, Enga, Gulf, Madang, Manus, Milne Bay, Morobe, National Capital, New Ireland, Northern, Sandaun, Southern Highlands, Western, Western Highlands, West New Britain

Bouganville rebellion

On Bougainville Island, a rebellion occurred from early 1989 until a truce came into effect in October 1997 and a permanent cease-fire was signed in April 1998. Under the eyes of a regional peace-monitoring force and a United Nations observer mission, the government and provincial leaders have established an interim government and are working toward election of a provincial government and a referendum on independence.

Political summary

The following is taken from The World Factbook:

Country name:

  • conventional long form: Independent State of Papua New Guinea
  • conventional short form: Papua New Guinea
  • abbreviation: PNG

Data code: PP

Government type: parliamentary democracy

Capital: Port Moresby

Independence: September 16, 1975 (from the Australian-administered UN trusteeship)

National holiday: Independence Day, September 16, (1975)

Constitution: September 16, 1975

Legal system: based on English Common Law

Suffrage: 18 years of age; universal


Papua New Guinea is divided into nineteen provinces and the National Capital District.

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Provinces of Papua New Guinea
Province Capital Area (km2) Population
1 Central Port Moresby 29,500 161,447
2 Simbu (Chimbu) Kundiawa 6,100 187,809
3 Eastern Highlands Goroka 11,200 316,802
4 East New Britain Rabaul 15,500 235,712
5 East Sepik Wewak 42,800 280,340
6 Enga Webag 12,800 279,046
7 Gulf Kerema 34,500 72,794
8 Madang Madang 29,000 288,317
9 Manus Lorengau 2,100 38,697
10 Milne Bay Alotau 14,000 185,000
11 Morobe Lae 34,500 439,725
12 New Ireland Kavieng 9,600 105,893
13 Oro (Northern) Popondetta 22,800 112,985
14 North Solomons (Bougainville) Arawa 9,300 178,262
15 Southern Highlands Mendi 23,800 390,240
16 Western Daru 99,300 126,411
17 Western Highlands Mount Hagen 8,500 398,376
18 West New Britain Kimbe 21,000 170,485
19 Sandaun (West Sepik) Vanimo 36,300 160,349
20 National Capital District Port Moresby 240 271,813


Map of Papua New Guinea

Location: Southeastern Asia, group of islands including the eastern half of the island of New Guinea between the Coral Sea and the South Pacific Ocean, east of Indonesia

Geographic coordinates: 600′ S 14700′ E (

Map references: Oceania

Area: total: 462,840 km land: 452,860 km water: 9,980 km

Land boundaries: total: 820 km border countries: Indonesia 820 km

Coastline: 5,152 km

Maritime claims: measured from claimed archipelagic baselines continental shelf: 200-m depth or to the depth of exploitation exclusive fishing zone: 200 nautical miles territorial sea: 12 nautical miles

Climate: tropical; northwest monsoon (December to March), southeast monsoon (May to October); slight seasonal temperature variation

Terrain: mostly mountains with coastal lowlands and rolling foothills

Elevation extremes: lowest point: Pacific Ocean 0 m highest point: Mount Wilhelm 4,509 m

Natural resources: gold, copper, silver, natural gas, timber, oil, fisheries

Land use: arable land: 0.1% permanent crops: 1% permanent pastures: 0% forests and woodland: 92.9% other: 6% (1993 est.)

Irrigated land: NA km

Natural hazards: active volcanism; situated along the Pacific "Rim of Fire"; the country is subject to frequent and sometimes severe earthquakes; mud slides; tsunamis

Environment - current issues: rain forest subject to deforestation as a result of growing commercial demand for tropical timber; forest clearance, especially in coastal areas, for plantations; pollution from mining projects

Environment - international agreements: party to: Antarctic Treaty, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Endangered Species, Environmental Modification, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Marine Dumping, Nuclear Test Ban, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, Tropical Timber 83, Tropical Timber 94, Wetlands signed, but not ratified: Antarctic-Environmental Protocol, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol

Geography - note: shares island of New Guinea with Indonesia; one of world's largest swamps along southwest coast


Papua New Guinea is part of the Australasia ecozone, which also includes Australia, New Zealand, eastern Indonesia, and several Pacific island groups, including the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu.

Geologically, New Guinea is the northern extension of Australia, separated only by a shallow continental shelf that has served as a land bridge when sea levels were lower, particularly in the ice ages. New Guinea shares many families of birds and marsupial mammals with Australia. Australia and New Guinea are distinguished by their large population of Marsupial mammals, including kangaroos, possums, and wombats.

Many of the islands that make up Papua New Guinea, including New Britain, New Ireland, Bougainville, the Admiralty Islands, the Trobriand Islands, and the Louisiade Archipelago, were never linked to New Guinea by land bridges, and they lack many of the land mammals and flightless birds that are common to New Guinea and Australia.

Australia and New Guinea are portions of the ancient supercontinent of Gondwana, which started to break into smaller continents in the Cretaceous era, 130-65 million years ago. Australia finally broke free from Antarctica about 45 million years ago. All the Australasian lands are home to the Antarctic flora, descended from the flora of southern Gondwana, including the coniferous podocarps and Araucaria pines, and the broadleafed southern beech (Nothofagus). These plant families are still present in Papua New Guinea.

As the Indo-Australian Plate, which contains India, Australia, and the Indian Ocean floor in between, moved north, it collided with the Eurasian Plate, and the collision of the two plates pushed up the Himalayas, the Indonesian islands, and New Guinea's Central Range. The Central Range is much younger and higher than the mountains of Australia; so high that it is home to rare equatorial glaciers. New Guinea is part of the humid tropics, and many Indomalayan rainforest plants spread across the narrow straits from Asia, mixing together with the old Australian and Antarctic floras.

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Densely forested mountains in the Ekuti range of Central Papua

Papua New Guinea includes a number of terrestrial ecoregions:



Papua New Guinea is richly endowed with natural resources, but exploitation has been hampered by the rugged terrain and the high cost of developing infrastructure. Agriculture provides a subsistence livelihood for the bulk of the population. Mineral deposits, including oil, copper, and gold, account for 72% of export earnings. Budgetary support from Australia and development aid under World Bank auspices have helped sustain the economy. In 1995, Port Moresby reached agreement with the IMF and World Bank on a structural adjustment program, of which the first phase was successfully completed in 1996. In 1997, droughts caused by the El Nio weather pattern wreaked havoc on Papua New Guinea's coffee, cocoa, and coconut production, the mainstays of the agricultural-based economy and major sources of export earnings. The coffee crop was slashed by up to 50% in 1997. Despite problems with drought, the year 1998 saw a small recovery in GDP. Growth increased to 3.6% in 1999 and may be even higher in 2000, say 4.3%.

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Workers at a timber company in the rainforest of PNG.


The economy generally can be separated into subsistence and market sectors, although the distinction is blurred by smallholder cash cropping of coffee, cocoa, and copra. About 75% of the country's population relies primarily on the subsistence economy. The minerals, timber, and fish sectors are dominated by foreign investors. Manufacturing is limited, and the formal labour sector consequently also is limited.

Mineral Resources

In 1999 mineral production accounted for 26.3% of gross domestic product. Government revenues and foreign exchange earning depend heavily on mineral exports. Indigenous landowners in areas affected by minerals projects also receive royalties from those operations. Papua New Guinea is richly endowed with gold, copper, oil, natural gas, and other minerals. Copper and gold mines are currently in production at Progera, Ok Tedi, Misima, and Lihir. New nickel, copper and gold projects have been identified and are awaiting a rise in commodity prices to begin development. A consortium led by Chevron is producing and exporting oil from the Southern Highlands Province of Papua New Guinea. In 2001, it expects to begin the commercialization of the country's estimated 640 km (23 trillion cubic feet) of natural gas reserves through the construction of a gas pipeline from Papua New Guinea to Queensland, Australia.

Agriculture, Timber, and Fish

Papua New Guinea also produces and exports valuable agricultural, timber, and fish products. Agriculture currently accounts for 25% of GDP and supports more than 80% of the population. Cash crops ranked by value are coffee, oil, cocoa, copra, tea, rubber, and sugar. The timber industry was not active in 1998, due to low world prices, but rebounded in 1999. About 40% of the country is covered with exploitable trees, and a domestic woodworking industry has been slow to develop. Fish exports are confined primarily to shrimp. Fishing boats of other nations catch tuna in Papua New Guinea waters under license.


In general, the Papua New Guinea economy is highly dependent on imports for manufactured goods. Its industrial sector--exclusive of mining--accounts for only 9% of GDP and contributes little to exports. Small-scale industries produce beer, soap, concrete products, clothing, paper products, matches, ice cream, canned meat, fruit juices, furniture, plywood, and paint. The small domestic market, relatively high wages, and high transport costs are constraints to industrial development.

Trade and Investment

Australia, Singapore, and Japan are the principal exporters to Papua New Guinea. Petroleum and mining machinery and aircraft are perennially the strongest U.S. exports to Papua New Guinea. In 1999, as mineral exploration and new minerals investments declined, so did United States exports. Australia is Papua New Guinea's most important export market, followed by Japan and the European Union. Crude oil is the largest U.S. import from Papua New Guinea, followed by gold, cocoa, coffee, and copper ore.

U.S. companies are active in developing Papua New Guinea's mining and petroleum sectors. Chevron operates the Kutubu and Gobe oil projects and is developing its natural gas reserves. A 5,000 to 6,000 m (30,000-40,000 barrel) per day oil refinery project in which there is an American interest also is under development in Port Moresby.

Papua New Guinea became a participating economy in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Forum in 1993. It joined the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 1996.

Development Programs and Aid

Australia is the largest bilateral aid donor to Papua New Guinea, offering about $200 million a year in assistance. Budgetary support, which has been provided in decreasing amounts since independence, was phased out in 2000, with aid concentrated on project development. Other major sources of aid to Papua New Guinea are Japan, the European Union, the People's Republic of China, the Republic of China, the United Nations, the Asian Development Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Bank. Volunteers from a number of countries, including the United States, and mission church workers also provide education, health, and development assistance throughout the country.

Current Economic Conditions (as of 2003)

By mid-1999, Papua New Guinea's economy was in crisis. Although its agricultural sector had recovered from the 1997 drought and timber prices were rising as most Asian economies recovered from their 1998 slump, Papua New Guinea's foreign currency earnings suffered from low world mineral and petroleum prices. Estimates of minerals in exploration expenditure in 1999 were one-third of what was spent in 1997. The resulting lower foreign exchange earnings, capital flight, and general government mismanagement resulted in a precipitous drop in the value of Papua New Guinea's currency, the kina, leading to a dangerous decrease in foreign currency reserves. The kina has floated since 1994. Economic activity decreased in most sectors; imports of all kinds shrunk; and inflation, which had been over 21% in 1998, slowed to an estimated annual rate of 8% in 1999.

Citing the previous government's failure to successfully negotiate acceptable commercial loans or bond sales to cover its budget deficit, the government formed by Sir Mekere Morauta in July 1999 successfully requested emergency assistance from the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. With assistance from the Fund and the Bank, the government has made considerable progress toward macroeconomic stabilization and economic reform.

Economic Statistics

  • GDP: purchasing power parity - $11.6 billion (11.6 G$) (1999 est.)
  • GDP - real growth rate: 3.6% (1999 est.)
  • GDP - per capita: purchasing power parity - $2,500 (1999 est.)
  • GDP - composition by sector:
    • agriculture: 25%
    • industry: 35%
    • services: 40% (1999 est.)
  • Population below poverty line: NA%
  • Household income or consumption by percentage share:
    • lowest 10%: 1.7%
    • highest 10%: 40.5% (1996)
  • Inflation rate (consumer prices): 16.5% (1999 est.)
  • Labour force: 1.941 million
  • Labour force - by occupation: agriculture NA%, industry NA%, services NA%
  • Unemployment rate: NA%


  • revenues: $1.6 billion
  • expenditures: $1.9 billion, including capital expenditures of $NA (1998 est.)

Industries: copra crushing, palm oil processing, plywood production, wood chip production; mining of gold, silver, and copper; crude oil production; construction, tourism

Industrial production growth rate: NA%

  • Electricity - production: 1,700 GWh (1998)
  • Electricity - production by source:
    • fossil fuel: 69.54%
    • hydro: 30.46%
    • nuclear: 0%
    • other: 0% (1998)
  • Electricity - consumption: 1,600 GWh (1998)
  • Electricity - exports: 0 kWh (1998)
  • Electricity - imports: 0 kWh (1998)

Agriculture - products: coffee, cocoa, coconuts, palm kernels, tea, rubber, sweet potatoes, fruit, vegetables; poultry, pork

  • Exports: $1.9 billion (f.o.b., 1999 est.)
  • Exports - commodities: oil, gold, copper ore, logs, palm oil, coffee, cocoa, crayfish and prawns
  • Exports - partners: Australia 20%, Japan 13%, Germany 7%, South Korea 5%, Philippines 4%, United Kingdom 3% (1998)
  • Imports: $1 billion (f.o.b., 1999 est.)
  • Imports - commodities: machinery and transport equipment, manufactured goods, food, fuels, chemicals
  • Imports - partners: Australia 51%, Singapore 10%, Japan 8%, United States 5%, New Zealand 5%, Malaysia 3% (1998)
  • Debt - external: $2.4 billion (1999 est.)
  • Economic aid - recipient: $400 million (1999 est.)
  • Currency:
    • 1 kina (K) = 100 toea
    • Exchange rates: kina (K) per US$1 - 2.7624 (November 1999), 2.520 (1999), 2.058 (1998), 1.434 (1997), 1.318 (1996), 1.276 (1995)

Fiscal year: calendar year


The indigenous population of Papua New Guinea is one of the most heterogeneous in the world. Papua New Guinea has several thousand separate communities, most with only a few hundred people. Divided by language, customs, and tradition, some of these communities have engaged in tribal warfare with their neighbors for centuries.

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Demographics of Papua New Guinea, Data of FAO, year 2005 ; Number of inhabitants in thousands.

The isolation created by the mountainous terrain is so great that some groups, until recently, were unaware of the existence of neighboring groups only a few kilometers away. The diversity, reflected in a folk saying, "For each village, a different culture," is perhaps best shown in the local languages. Spoken mainly on the island of New Guinea, about 650 of these Papuan languages have been identified; of these, only 350-450 are related. The remainder seem to be totally unrelated either to each other or to the other major groupings. Native languages are spoken by a few hundred to a few thousand, although Enga, used in Enga Province, is spoken by some 130,000 people. Most native languages are extremely complex grammatically.

Tok Pisin serves as the lingua franca. English is the language of business and government, and all schooling from Grade 2 Primary is in English.

The overall population density is low, although pockets of overpopulation exist. Papua New Guinea's Western Province averages one person per square kilometer (3 per sq. mi.). The Chimbu Province in the New Guinea highlands averages 20 persons per square kilometer (60 per sq. mi.) and has areas containing up to 200 people farming a square kilometer of land. The highlands have 40% of the population.

A considerable urban drift toward Port Moresby and other major centers has occurred in recent years. Between 1978 and 1988, Port Moresby grew nearly 8% per year, Lae 6%, Mount Hagen 6.5%, Goroka 4%, and Madang 3%. The trend toward urbanization accelerated in the 1990s, bringing in its wake squatter settlements, unemployment, and attendant social problems. Almost two-thirds of the population is Christian. Of these, more than 700,000 are Catholic, more than 500,000 Lutheran, and the balance are members of other Protestant denominations. Although the major churches are under indigenous leadership, a large number of missionaries remain in the country. The bulk of the estimated 2,500 Americans resident in Papua New Guinea are missionaries and their families. The non-Christian portion of the indigenous population practices a wide variety of religions that are an integral part of traditional culture, mainly animism (spirit worship) and ancestor cults.

Foreign residents are just over 1% of the population. More than half are Australian; others are from the United Kingdom, New Zealand, the Philippines, and the United States. Since independence, about 900 foreigners have become naturalized citizens.

The traditional Papua New Guinea social structure includes the following characteristics:

The practice of subsistence economy; Recognition of bonds of kinship with obligations extending beyond the immediate family group; Generally egalitarian relationships with an emphasis on acquired, rather than inherited, status; and A strong attachment of the people to land. Most Papua New Guineans still adhere strongly to this traditional social structure, which has its roots in village life.

Demographics of Papua New Guinea, Data of FAO, year 2005 ; Number of inhabitants in thousands. Population: 4,926,984 (July 2000 est.)

Age structure:

  • 0-14 years: 39% (male 972,289; female 940,049)
  • 15-64 years: 58% (male 1,470,158; female 1,365,523)
  • 65 years and over: 3% (male 84,942; female 94,023) (2000 est.)

Population growth rate: 2.47% (2000 est.)

Birth rate: 32.68 births/1,000 population (2000 est.)

Death rate: 8 deaths/1,000 population (2000 est.)

Net migration rate: 0 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2000 est.)

Sex ratio:

  • at birth: 1.05 male(s)/female
  • under 15 years: 1.03 male(s)/female
  • 15-64 years: 1.08 male(s)/female
  • 65 years and over: 0.9 male(s)/female

total population: 1.05 male(s)/female (2000 est.)

Infant mortality rate: 59.89 deaths/1,000 live births (2000 est.)

Life expectancy at birth:

  • total population: 63.1 years
  • male: 61.05 years
  • female: 65.26 years (2000 est.)

Total fertility rate: 4.38 children born/woman (2000 est.)

Nationality: noun: Papua New Guinean(s) adjective: Papua New Guinean

Major ethnic groupings:

Minor ethnic groupings:

Religions: Roman Catholic 22%, Lutheran 16%, Presbyterian/Methodist/London Missionary Society 8%, Anglican 5%, Evangelical Alliance 4%, Seventh-Day Adventist 1%, other Protestant 10%, indigenous beliefs 34%

Languages: English spoken by 1%-2%, Tok Pisin widespread, Motu spoken in Papua region note: 715 indigenous languages


  • definition: age 15 and over can read and write
  • total population: 72.2%
    • male: 81%
    • female: 62.7% (1995 est.)


The culture of Papua New Guinea is many-sided and complex. It is estimated that more than 1000 different cultural groups exist in PNG. Because of this diversity, many different styles of cultural expression have emerged; each group has created its own expressive forms in art, dance, weaponry, costumes, singing, music, architecture and much more.

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Children dressed up for sing sing in Yengisa, Papua New Guinea

Most of these different cultural groups have their own language. People typically live in villages which rely on subsistence farming. To balance their diets, they go hunting and collect wild plants (such as yams roots) for food. Those who become skilled at hunting, farming and fishing earn a great deal of respect in Papua New Guinea.

On the Sepik River, a group of indigenous people is known for their wood carvings. They create forms of plants or animals, because they believe these are their ancestors.

Even though sea shells are no longer the currency of Papua New Guinea - sea shells were abolished as currency in 1933 - this heritage is still present in local customs; to get a bride, a groom must bring a certain amount of golden-edged clam shells.]

People of the highlands engage in colorful local rituals that are called "sing sings". They paint themselves and dress up with feathers, pearls and animal skins to represent birds, trees or mountain spirits. Sometimes an important event, such as a legendary battle, would be enacted at such a musical festival.


Pop music

By the beginning of the 20th century, Christian hymns, work songs and gold rush songs were popular, some in native languages and some in English or German. By the 1920s, recorded music had become popular and radio broadcasting of western popular music appeared by the late 1930s. A few years later, Allied soldiers and sailors during World War 2 popularized the guitar and ukulele while stationed in the Philippines and Hawaii. String bands became very popular by the early 1950s, and soon dominated the pop landscape. In the late 1960s, rock bands like the Kopikats had appeared in cities, while string bands like the Paramana Strangers had become well-known internationally. This was followed by the importation of bamboo bands, a style of music from the Solomon Islands using bamboo tubes played by hitting them with sandals. It first arrived in the area of Madang in the mid-1970s, and soon spread throughout the country.

By the end of the '70s, a local recording industry had appeared and artists like Sanguma and, later, George Telek, began mixing native and Western styles like rock and jazz.

Traditional music

Christian missionaries disapproved of Papuan folk music throughout the colonial period of the country's history. Even after independence, the outside world knew little of the diverse peoples' traditional music genres. The first commercial release to see an international audience didn't occur until 1991 (see 1991 in music), when Mickey Hart's Voices of the Rainforest was released.

After 1872, foreigners introduced Christian hymns, including Gregorian chanting. Peroveta anedia, ute and taibubu, all forms of Polynesian music, were also introduced in this period. The Gold Rush brought an influx of Australian miners who brought with them the mouth organ.

Traditional celebrations, which include song, dance, feasting and gift-giving, are called singsing. Vibrant and colorful costumes adorn the dancers, while a leader and a chorus sing a staggered approach to the same song, producing a fugue-like effect. 1993 saw television spreading across the country, and American popular music continued to affect Papuan music given the diffusion of radio since WWII. Since 1953, singsings have become competitive in nature, with contests occurring in Port Moresby, Mt. Hagen and Goroka. 1949 saw the first Papuan to achieve international fame, Blasius To Una, begin his career.


Missing image
Australian Rules Footballer Mal Michael.

Sport is hugely popular in Papua New Guinea and wide variety is participated in and watched. Popular sports include most forms of football (Rugby League, Rugby Union, Soccer and Australian Rules), cricket, volleyball, softball, netball and basketball. Other Olympic sports are also gaining popularity including boxing and weightlifting.

Rugby League is the most popular sport (especially in the highlands) and the annual Australian State of Origin matches are the most watched sporting event of the year. West New Britain Rugby League player, Marcus Bai, is a national celebrity after he played for the National Rugby League side Melbourne Storm (he is currently playing in the Super League competition in England). A new national competition started in 2005 called the SP Cup.

Australian Rules Football is gaining popularity with the introduction of Mal Michael playing.

Cricket is traditionally popular in the Papuan provinces where the British had the most influence. In the Trobriand Islands cricket has become fused with the local culture and a game played with stones instead of a rock and unlimited fielders has developed. It was introduced in 1903 by Methodist missionaries, and has became a beloved sport there.


Source: US Department of State International Religious Freedom Report 2003 (

The courts and government practice uphold the constitutional right to freedom of speech, thought, and belief, and no legislation to curb those rights has been adopted.


The 2000 census showed 96 percent of citizens were members of a Christian church, and many citizens combine their Christian faith with some pre-Christian traditional indigenous practices. The churches with the largest number of members are the Roman Catholic Church (with 30% of the population), the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Papua New Guinea, the United Church of Papua New Guinea, and the Seventh-day Adventists. The Pentecostal churches and charismatic movement are also present.

The Papua New Guinea Council of Churches members are:

There are also a number of parachurch organizations:

Other religions

Minority religions include the Baha'i Faith (15,000 Baha'is) and Islam (1,000 to 2,000 Muslims). 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

Traditional religions were animist and also tended to have elements of ancestor worship.

This is illustrated in the article on the Korowa of Papua.

Miscellaneous topics

External links

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