Papua New Guinea (PNG) is located just below the Equator in the South Pacific. It is north of Australia and East of Indonesia. PNG consists of a mainland and many islands of varying size. It is the second largest island in the world and has the tallest mountain on any island. The western half of the island is called Papua and is part of Indonesia.
Papua New Guinea has an area of 178,704 sq miles. It is a little larger than the state of California. The coastal and island regions are hot and humid. The waters have beautiful reefs and are considered one of the top snorkeling locations in the world. The highlands regions are usually cooler. Where we live it is often clear in the morning with rain in the afternoons. We average around 400 inches of rain a year. The highlands are full of rugged mountains and beautiful rivers and lakes.
The highest mountain in Papua New Guinea is Mt. Wilhem, which is 14,793 ft. Mt. Giluwe is a close second at 14,327 ft and is near to us. The mountains are beautiful and are full of PNG’s abundant wildlife. There are some expansive valleys. The Ramu Valley is closer to the coast and is where PNG sugar (cane) and oil (oil palms) is grown. PNG grown coffee is famous worldwide and you can probably find some at a store near you. Cocoa and vanilla beans are also exported in lesser quantities. Gold and oil are also exported and are a major source of income for the country.
PNG has many active volcanoes. In 2019 West New Britain had an eruption that forced 15,000 villagers to flee their homes. It had an ash column of 11 miles high. At the same time another nearby volcano had lava flowing down its slopes. There are also many extinct (hopefully) volcanoes on the island, including Mt. Ialibu, the base of which is 6 miles from the mission station (9 miles to the peak).
Earthquakes are a common occurrence. They are often 5 or lower on the richter scale. In 2018 we had an earthquake that measured 7.5. The epicenter was 90 miles from the mission station and was felt by all! There was a lot of damage done with the initial quake and the more than 270 aftershocks that followed (68 were above 5.0 and 6 were at least 6.0). We can normally feel earthquakes at least once every few months.
The population of New Guinea, as of 2020, is estimated to be almost 9,000,000. Although there are 19 provinces in Papua New Guinea, the majority of the people live in the highlands, scattered throughout various villages and tribes. Mt. Hagen, which is where we go for supplies, is the 3rd largest city in New Guinea. It has a population of over 46,000. There are stores and a few restaurants, including one fast food restaurant – Big Rooster, where you can order chicken and french fries. Mt. Hagen hosts the Hagen Show every August. People from around the world come to see the cultural displays/beliefs and traditional dances and costumes.
There are 851 languages, which is more than any other country in the world. These are actual languages, not just dialects. Throughout the country Melanesian Pidgin is spoken, but English is considered the official language (although not spoken prevalently). In our school, Pangia Baptist Missionary School, we teach primarily in English.
Customs and cultures can be as different as the languages that separate the people. There can be much conflict between peoples and tribes. Small scale fighting is common, although not necessarily dangerous to outsiders. Election times bring about much political tension and fights between parties is common. In 2017 there was a political fight in front of the mission station and at least 4 died during fight and many were injured. We took 17 to the hospital 4 hours away to receive treatment.
There are many religions in New Guinea. The traditional culture involves spirit worship and animism. Spirits that live in the water (masolai) and on land (sanguma), among others, are to be feared and appeased. Sorcery and witchcraft, although frowned upon, are still prevalent throughout PNG. Every month or so the newspaper reports of violence resulting from accusations of witchcraft, sorcery, or on the rare occasion, cannibalism. An accusation of sorcery often leads to torture and death for the accused. Missionaries have brought in various religions, the most prevalent of which are Catholic, Lutheran, 7th Day Adventist, and Baptist.
PNG received its independence from Australia in 1975. It is part of the Commonwealth and uses a parliamentary form of government. The Prime Minister (elected by parliament) is the head of the government. He chooses the other members of the cabinet, who head each ministry. Members of parliament are voted in by the people in each province.
PNG was first named Papua by a Portugese discoverer name Don Jorge de Meneses. In 1545 the added “New Guinea” was applied. European traders, and others, visited throughout the 16th and 17th centuries but it wasn’t until 1828 that the Dutch claimed the western half of New Guinea (Irian Jaya). Prior to World War II it was two separate territories. Papua was a British colony until 1884. New Guinea was part of the German empire. Following WWI it was given to Australia. After a brief occupation by Japan, during WWII, the two territories were joined and became known as the Territory of Papua and New Guinea. Australia worked to develop PNG until 1975 when they gave the country back to be self ruled.
In general the people of PNG live off of their gardens with subsistence farming. The land grows kaukau (similar to sweet potatoes), various greens, various squash, sugar cane, and many other vegetables. Pigs are used in festivities and are one of the few domesticated animals. Wild pigs, cassowaries, snakes, and parrots, are prevalent in the jungles, and are still hunted. Typically, houses are made of natural materials with a woven mat for walls and a grass roof. Men build the houses and fencing , and carry firewood, while women work the gardens, prepare the food, and raise the children and pigs.