About Papua New Guinea

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PNG south of Equator, north of Australia

PNG south of Equator, north of Australia

Papua New Guinea: large for a South Pacific island nation, but unknown to much of the world.

Don’t mistake it for the African nations of Guinea, Equatorial Guinea, and Guinea-Bissau. Papua New Guinea may look like Africa in pictures, but it is a very long way from Africa.

And it has little interaction with the western half of the New Guinea island, which is sometimes called [West] Papua. Confusing, isn’t it?

Old territories of Papua and New Guinea

Old territories of Papua and New Guinea

You may be tempted to put a comma in Papua New Guinea, but don’t. British Papua (southeast) and German New Guinea (northeast) used to be separate, but under Australian rule they were joined together, and thus evolved the name.

What is PNG famous for? Historically it is famous as a home of “primitives,” an insulting name that even locals sometimes use for themselves when they are feeling far behind in the race for technology.

Spear dance

Spear dance

But in a time when “developed” cultures are striving for clean air, organic food, healthy exercise, and time to spend with family, Papua New Guinea may be ahead rather than behind.

Sago roof with some metal

Sago roof with some metal

Of course, locals don’t see it that way. They would love to replace their sago-leaf roofs with metal, their garden foods with processed foods, and so on. But for most of them, these luxuries are still a long way off.

Woman holding a sea turtle, later released in the ocean

Woman holding a sea turtle, later released in the ocean

Among the ecologically aware, PNG is famous for its almost unpolluted rain forests and reefs, home to many unique species of plants, insects, birds, and marine life.

Among linguists and missionaries, PNG is famous for having the most languages of any nation, about 850 at last count, even though they only have about 7 million people.

Young people in traditional festive dress

Young people in traditional festive dress

Most people in PNG have a combination religion: deep-seated animism (witches, spirits, ghosts, sorcery) overlaid with the structures and beliefs of one Christian denomination or another, and of course the devotion to money, pleasure and power that is common throughout the world.

Religious celebration

Religious celebration

What would you be doing if you happened to have been born in Papua New Guinea?

In the late afternoon, you would probably be splashing away the garden dirt in a cool river. You might even see a metallic blue butterfly reflecting the sun’s last rays.

You would likely be involved in a legal land dispute because you sold trees to a timber company and then your relatives decided that the land (and tree money) really belonged to them.

Pig for feast

Pig for feast

You could have been hiding in the bushes because the members from a new church came to visit, and the last time you listened too much to a new church, your family cut your clothes to shreds.

You might have just spent your life’s savings on a pig for your spouse’s funeral only to find that your in-laws stole the body and buried it in their own village. But if you are feeling generous, you would probably send the pig to your in-laws anyway.

Sweet potatoes and bananas for cooking

Sweet potatoes and bananas for cooking

You could have been carrying a load of taros, sweet potatoes, and cooking bananas to your nephew that lives in town, hoping that he will give half of his meager wage to pay your children’s school fees.

Pastor and magic man at ceremony for keeping spirit in wood

Pastor and magic man at ceremony for keeping spirit in wood

You may have been carrying an injured child for miles over rough terrain to reach the nearest aid post.

You could have been digesting an ineffective dose of malaria medicine while paying a seer to find out what witch gave you this sickness that medicine won’t cure.

You might even have been putting magic medicine on a felled tree so that the tree spirit would stay in the wood (after asking your local pastor to pray over it).

Or you might be boycotting the magic and trusting God for your needs, because all things are possible with God.

Baptism in Gama River

Baptism in Gama River

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