Independent State of Papua New Guinea
178,703.52 sq mi
462,840.00 sq km
4,926,984 (July 2000 est.)
Estimated Population in 2050
English spoken by 1%-2%, pidgin English widespread, Motu spoken in Papua
72.2% total, 81.0% male, 62.7% female (1995 est.)
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%
61.05 male, 65.26 female (2000 est.)
1 kina (K) = 100 toea
GDP (per capita)
$2,500 (1999 est.)
Labor Force (by occupation)
agriculture N/A%, industry N/A%, services N/A%
copra crushing, palm oil processing, plywood production, wood chip production;
mining of gold, silver, and copper; crude oil production; construction,
coffee, cocoa, coconuts, palm kernels, tea, rubber, sweet potatoes,
fruit, vegetables; poultry, pork
oil, gold, copper ore, logs, palm oil, coffee, cocoa, crayfish and prawns
machinery and transport equipment, manufactured goods, food, fuels,
gold, copper, silver, natural gas, timber, oil, fisheries
Current Environmental Issues
rain forest subject to deforestation as a result of growing commercial
demand for tropical timber; pollution from mining projects; severe drought
Telephones (main lines in use)
Telephones (mobile cellular)
Internet Service Providers (ISPs)
It is believed that Papua New Guinea was originally inhabited by Asian
settlers over 50,000 years ago. The first European contact in 1526-27
was by the Portuguese explorer Jorge de Meneses, who named the island
Ilhas dos Papuas (Island of the Fuzzy Hairs). The Spaniard Inigo Ortiz
de Retes later called it New Guinea because he thought the people similar
to those of Guinea in Africa. Further exploration followed, including
landings by Bougainville, Cook, Stanley and John Moresby.
rather daunting place, New Guinea was left alone for several centuries,
with only the Dutch making any effort to assert European authority over
the island. But in 1824, the Dutch (seeking to shore up their profitable
Dutch East Indies empire) formalised their claims to sovereignty over
the western portion of the island. Germany followed, taking possession
of the northern part of the territory in 1884. A colonial troika was
completed three days later when Britain declared a protectorate over
the southern region; outright annexation occurred four years later.
British New Guinea became Papua, and administration of the region was
taken over by newly independent Australia. With the outbreak of WWI,
Australian troops promptly secured the German headquarters at Rabaul,
subsequently taking control of German New Guinea. In 1920, the League
of Nations officially handed it over to Australia as a mandated territory.
During WWII the northern islands and most of the northern coast fell
to the Japanese who advanced southward until stalled by Allied forces.
By 1945 the mainland and Bougainville had been recaptured, but the Japanese
were impregnable in New Ireland and especially Rabaul in New Britain,
where they dug 500km of tunnels. They surrendered these strongholds
at the end of the war. Post-war, the eastern half of New Guinea reverted
to Australia and became the Territory of Papua & New Guinea. Indonesia
took control of Dutch New Guinea in 1963 (incorporating it into the
Indonesian state as Irian Jaya). PNG was granted self-government in
1973, and full independence was achieved in 1975.
Guinea's most immediate concern after independence was its relations
with powerful neighbour Indonesia. After Indonesia's takeover of Irian
Jaya, many West Papuans organised a guerrilla resistance movement -
Organisasi Papua Merdeka (OPM) - which fought Indonesian forces with
limited success. Tensions decreased markedly after 1985, as the flow
of refugees (estimated at over 10,000) between Irian Jaya and PNG slowed.
There are still 7500 Irian Jayan refugees living in camps in Western
Province - the largest expatriate group in the country.
a new trouble spot for PNG soon appeared on Bougainville Island, where
the locals regarded themselves as racially and culturally distinct from
mainlanders. Bougainvilleans were embittered by the environmental destruction
caused by the giant Australian-owned Panguna copper mine and by the
way revenue from the mine filled a third of the national coffers but
did not find its way back to their island. They formed the Bougainville
Revolutionary Army (BRA) and forced the mine to close in 1989. This
act, coupled with rebel demands for secession, sparked a major military
confrontation with PNG forces and a resulting slew of human rights abuses.
bloodshed - including the notorious St Valentine's Day Massacre of 1990
when gunships, supplied by Australia, were deployed in an offensive
role by the PNG security forces - peace talks were tentatively staged.
But in 1992, then Prime Minister Wingti launched another major offensive
against the rebels, further exacerbating the situation. The conflict
claimed the scalp of the next prime minister, Sir Julius Chan, in early
1997 when PNG military leaders refused to co-operate with a US$35 million
covert operation that involved South African mercenaries re-taking the
island by force. The mercenaries were sent home and Sir Julius resigned.
Elections in mid-1997 saw Bill Skate take up the office.
war officially ended in April 1998 - during the course of the 10-year
war around 40,000 Bougainville islanders became refugees, and up to
20,000 people were killed. Rising optimism over the ceasefire was rapidly
tempered by a corruption scandal fizzing up around Bill Skate, and a
catastrophic drought, caused by El Niño and felt worst in the
central highlands provinces. Around 500 deaths were attributed to resulting
hunger and disease and more than 650,000 people were severely affected.
As if that wasn't enough, in July 1998 three giant tsunamis hit PNG's
north-west coast - up to 3000 people were killed as villages along the
coast were completely flattened. However, with the Bougainville ceasefire
holding, cautious optimism is abroad.