About PNG

General Information

Capital Port Moresby
Land area 452,860 sq km
Official Language(s) Tok Pisin, English, Hiri Motu
Population 8.4 million (2018)
Currency Kina (PGK)
Head of State HM Queen Elizabeth II, represented by the Governor-General HE Sir Bob Dadae
Head of Government Prime Minister Hon. James Marape

Papua New Guinea Map

Languages

The official languages of the country all reflect its colonial history. English is the main language of government and commerce. In most everyday contexts the most widely spoken language is Tok Pisin(“Pidgin Language”; also called Melanesian Pidgin or Neo-Melanesian), a creole combining grammatical elements of indigenous languages, some German, and, increasingly, English.

Hiri Motu is a simplified trading language originally used by the people who lived around what is now Port Moresby when it came under that name in 1884.

In addition to the official languages, there are more than 800 distinct indigenous languages belonging to two radically different language groups—Austronesian, to which the local languages classified as Melanesian belong, and non-Austronesian, or Papuan.

There are some 200 related Austronesian languages. Austronesian speakers generally inhabit the coastal regions and offshore islands, including the Trobriands and Buka. Papuan speakers, who constitute the great majority of the population, live mainly in the interior.

The approximately 550 non-Austronesian languages have small speech communities, the largest being the Engan, Melpa, and Kuman speakers in the Highlands, each with more than 100,000 speakers. Amid such a multiplicity of tongues, Tok Pisin serves as an effective language.

People

Papua New Guinea’s social composition is extremely complex, although most people are classified as Melanesian. Very small minorities of Micronesian and Polynesian societies can be found on some of the outlying islands and atolls, and as in the eastern and northern Pacific these people have political structures headed by chiefs, a system seldom found among the Melanesian peoples of Papua New Guinea.

The non-Melanesian portion of the population, including expatriates and immigrants, is small. At independence in 1975 the expatriate community of about 50,000 was predominantly Australian, with perhaps 10,000 people of Chinese origin whose ancestors had arrived before World War I.

By the early 21st century most of those people had moved to Australia. The foreign-born community had not expanded but had become more mixed, with only some 7,000 Australians; the largest non-Western groups were from China and the Philippines. The government sponsored the immigration of Filipinos in the 1970s to provide workers in skilled professions, and many entered business and intermarried locally.

Culture

Despite the penetration of the contemporary economy and media and the effects thereof on traditional cultural life, Papua New Guinea retains a rich variety of village cultures. These are expressed in the ways the country’s landscapes have been shaped over generations and in its people’s wood carving, storytelling, song, dance, and body decoration.

Physically remote and still very isolated, Papua New Guinea is one of the least explored countries in the world, both culturally and geographically. This means its cultural life and customs have been allowed to flourish untainted by outside influence for centuries. And, due to the huge number of tribes living here – an estimated 750 – it has more than just well-preserved culture; it has a glorious abundance of it, with hundreds of diverse tribal traditions and ceremonies that are very local and utterly unique.

Although much of PNG remains unexplored and unexplained, it is possible to meet and learn about some of the tribes both on New Guinea itself and the surrounding islands. The Highland regions are a great place for tribal encounters, and home to some of the most resilient culture anywhere in PNG. You might join a traditional mumu feast, for which food is wrapped in banana leaves and cooked under hot stones, and witness a sing sing, a performance devised as a way for neighbouring villages to peacefully share traditions.

Tourism in PNG

Tourism in Papua New Guinea is a fledgling industry. There are attractions for the potential visitor which include culture, markets, festivals, diving, surfing, hiking, fishing and the unique flora and fauna. Papua New Guinea receives an increasing number of visitors each year.

Papua New Guinea Cultural Highlights

Asaro ‘Mudmen’

The term ‘Mudmen’ applies to the men of the Asaro tribe, after their practice of coating their skin in mud and wearing ghoulish clay masks adorned with pigs’ teeth and shells. There are various origin myths around this tradition, but they all centre on the mud and mask combination making the men look like spirits or ghosts, which terrified their enemies and gave the Asaro a fearsome advantage. The mud mask tradition originates with the Asaro people.

Baining Fire Dance

The Fire Dance is a rite of passage performed by adolescent male members of the Baining tribe of New Britain. They compete wearing massive headdresses, shaped like animals’ heads, and run through and kick the fire, sending up showers of sparks, accompanied by chanting and singing from village elders.

Goroka Show

This is the longest running tribal gathering and cultural festival in Papua New Guinea hosted in Goroka, capital of the Eastern Highlands Province, in September. It’s an annual event conceived in the 1950s by Australian patrol officers and designed to provide an opportunity for isolated and historically warring tribes to interact in a peaceful environment. More than 100 tribes participate now, performing displays of sing sings – traditional songs, dances and ritual performances – and wearing extraordinary and colourful tribal dress.

National Mask Festival & Warwagira

This annual event, founded in 1995 and held in July, celebrates the unique mask cultures of East New Britain Province and is a cultural tribute to the local people: the Tolai, Baining and Sulka. It’s an extravaganza of cultural dancing, ritual performance and storytelling with a variety of arts and crafts on display and takes place in Kokopo. The opening ceremony is called the Kinavai and features the arrival of the Tolai Tubuans and Duk-Duks (masked spirits) emerging from the sea mist at dawn. You can also see the traditional Tolai shell money exchanges that mark the opening of the festival.

The best and, in fact, the only way to visit Papua New Guinea is to book yourself onto an organised tour. This will include a tour leader and local guides and drivers – essential since there’s barely any tourism infrastructure in PNG and few roads – plus internal flights and transport, meals and accommodation. Most organised tours make PNG’s local culture a huge part of the itinerary, alongside exploring World War II sites and some trekking, bird watching and snorkelling, so you’ll have time at various villages to meet local people and join cultural activities with them. Some tours are also designed to coincide with one of the annual tribal festivals, with entrance fees included in the holiday price. Tours are generally small group departures, with no more than 12 people. Small groups can visit villages and local tribes sensitively and with minimal impact, ensuring that both travellers and Papua New Guineans benefit from the interaction.

Economy

Two distinct economies exist side-by-side in Papua New Guinea - the traditional and the cash economies.

The traditional sector, mainly subsistence and semi-subsistence farming, supports about 85 per cent of the population. Most villages are self-sufficient and small surpluses of produce are available for trading.

Papua New Guinea exports mainly minerals and agricultural commodities. The National Government encourages more production onshore for the needs of the population and for export.

The economy is dominated by mineral and petroleum projects. However, the agriculture, forestry, fishing and manufacturing sectors combined still account for a significant portion of the nation's gross domestic product.

Total exports from Papua New Guinea are valued at more than $US2 billion, major exports being minerals (gold, silver, copper and crude oil), timber, coffee, palm oil, cocoa and copra. Papua New Guinea has experienced a relatively even balance of trade over the last five years, with exports marginally exceedingimports.

Papua New Guinea’s Top 10 Exports

The following export product groups represent the highest dollar value in Papua New Guinean global shipments during 2018. Also shown is the percentage share each export category represents in terms of overall exports from Papua New Guinea.
  • Mineral fuels including oil: US$5 billion (44.6% of total exports)
  • Gems, precious metals: $2.2 billion (20.1%)
  • Ores, slag, ash: $938.5 million (8.4%)
  • Wood: $928.7 million (8.3%)
  • Animal/vegetable fats, oils, waxes: $582.8 million (5.2%)
  • Nickel: $524.3 million (4.7%)
  • Meat/seafood preparations: $211.2 million (1.9%)
  • Coffee, tea, spices: $207.7 million (1.9%)
  • Cocoa: $85.4 million (0.8%)
Papua New Guinea’s top 10 exports are extremely concentrated, accounting for 98.5% of the overall value of its global shipments.
Nickel was the fastest-growing among the top 10 export categories, up by 42.7% since 2017.
In second place for improving export sales was wood via a 26.1% increase.
Papua New Guinea’s shipments of meat or seafood preparations posted the third-fastest gain in value up by 11.8%.
The leading decliner among the top 10 Papua New Guinea export categories was animal or vegetable fats, oils and waxes which fell -11.2% year over year.
At the more granular four-digit Harmonized Tariff System code level, petroleum gases represent Papua New Guinea’s most valuable exported product at 34.6% of the country’s total. In second place was unwrought gold (19.7%) trailed by rough wood (8%), copper ores and concentrates (7%), crude oil (6.7%), nickel matte and oxide sinters (4.7%), palm oil (4.3%) processed petroleum oils (3.3%) then frozen whole fish (2.4%).