- Papua New Guinea

New Guinea, the second largest island in the world

It is the second largest island in the world, after Greenland, because, technically-speaking, Australia is actually a continent. It covers an area of 785, 000 sq. km. The island is mountainous with lowlands in the northern and southern sections and lies north of Australia, which it was actually attached to until approximately 5,000 years ago. The island is divided between Indonesia and Papua New Guinea at the 141st longitude. All that lies west of this is Indonesian, and all that lies east of it is now the independent nation of Papua New Guinea. The Indonesian name for New Guinea is Irian, and the Indonesian sector is included in the two Indonesian provinces of Irian Jaya Barat (West Irian Jaya), the capital of which is Merauke and Papua, formerly Irian Jaya, whose capital is Jayapura.

New Guinea, traditional dances

New Guinea, traditional dances

New Guinea´s turbulent history

Both the history and culture of this fascinating island is multi-faceted and complex. This huge island was first discovered in 1527 by Jorge de Meneses of Portugal who named it rather poetically “the island with the curly hair”. He was followed by the Spanish, by Captain Cook from Great Britain, and by the East India Company who annexed it in 1793. The Germans were involved, too, as well as the Dutch who annexed the western part of the island in1828. In 1883, the southern part was briefly annexed by the French but they were replaced by the English in 1884 who took over the south-eastern part, while the Germans took the northern part. In 1901, the southern part became an Australian territory and they eventually became fully responsible for the island in 1906. The north-eastern section, then under the Germans, became an English mandate under Australia.  Under World War II, the island was invaded by the Japanese. The Australia section gained their independence in 1975 and became a member of the UN in 1995. Phew! Still with us? Remarkably, however, this seems to have left little impression on the more than 1,000 different ethnic groups that co-exist in the country today, each with their own traditions, culture, art, dance, music, costumes and architecture- and this is what visiting travellers come to see.

Tourism is still a fledgling industry, but these isolated cultures that exist much as they have always done provide a fascinating glimpse into a totally different world that is fast disappearing elsewhere.

Come here to experience the culture, markets, and festivals! Or maybe do a little diving or surfing to stretch out those muscles after the long flight. Just to give you a taste of what is waiting… you can visit the Asaro Village, north-west of Goroka, famous for its mud men warriors who traditionally covered their bodies and faces in grey mud and wore huge masks before going into battle, or the Sepik River people who are renowned for their wood-carving skills who carve their ancestors’ spirits in the shape of birds, animals or plants, or join in with one of the village “sing-sings” held in the villages to celebrate special occasions such as the twice-annual yam harvests where villagers paint their bodies and decorate them with feathers to resemble birds, trees or spirits.  In some of the villages, up until 1933 (and indeed, even today on Niugini Island), mussel shells were used as currency and are still used as dowries at weddings today.  In the capital´s stunning museum, The National Museum and Art Gallery, you can see and learn more about the elaborate masks, totem poles, and seafaring artefacts that have been preserved and see a full-size outrigger canoe up close. Looking to get out in nature? In the Varirata National Park you may be lucky enough to glimpse a kingfisher or bird of paradise when hiking the trails. Or head for Port Moresby National Park – a gentle 2 km. trail through the gardens and jungle, home to exotic species such as tree kangaroos, fruit bats, hornbills, and parrots, to name just a few. There are also monuments and historical attractions to visit. Still remote and largely undiscovered, perhaps it´s best to visit while it´s still that way.

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TravelTalk - White suitcaseMap over Papua New Guinea

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