Why New Guinea? The first Europeans to arrive in the 16th century thought the country resembled Guinea in West Africa. Why Papua? The word comes from Malay and means ‘fuzzy-haired’.

Papua New Guinea

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Papua New Guinea

By Richard Sidaway


Why New Guinea?

One of the first Europeans to arrive in the 16th century from Portugal thought the country resembled Guinea in West Africa.

Why Papua?

The word comes from the Malay language and means ‘fuzzy-haired’, referring to the natives.

Why have such a long name when you can abbreviate it? Papua New Guinea is a bit of a mouthful, so most people shorten it to PNG. Here are some of the many curiosities you might come across if you visit:

Pidgin Or Tok Pisin is the language that at least 2 million of the 5 million Papuans use to communicate with each other, in the street or in parliament, on radio and TV, possibly because the island has so many other languages (over 700). Pidgin originated as the lingua franca between foreign traders and natives and denotes any ’language’ which does not have a fully developed grammar and a vocabulary which is a mixture of other languages, in this case Portuguese, English, German and Melanesian. For example, the word for moustache is ‘mausgras’ (mouth grass), child is ‘pikinini’ from the Portuguese word for ‘small’, and ‘raus’ comes from German ‘get out’.

Active volcanoes – Being situated on the edge of the Pacific Ocean, the island has at least fifteen major volcanoes. The provincial capital of Rabaul, once a beautiful coastal town, was almost completely destroyed by the eruption of Tavurvur and Vulcan in 1994. Many buildings collapsed under the weight of volcanic ash which turned to mud after the rains and then hardened like cement. Luckily, the town had been evacuated the night before and only five people died.

Postage stamps – During the First World War, a set of stamps issued by the former Germany colonial authority was used by the Australian occupying forces who simply added the British King’s initials over the top. This only happened for a short time and as a result they are extremely rare. Today, one stamp originally costing five shillings can now sell for $10,000.

Unusual animals – Most people think that marsupials only live in Australia. Not so. There are quite a few weird and wonderful examples here too, like the tree kangaroo, along with egg-laying mammals such as the echidna, the New Guinea Singing Dog (see below) and the world’s longest lizard, the Salvatori Monitor, which is over 3 metres long.

Amazing birdlife – Any ornithologist would jump at the chance to visit New Guinea with its 700 species of birds. The most striking is the Bird of Paradise, whose mating ritual is emulated in the local tribal dances, and whose image adorns banknotes and the country’s flag. Another is the flightless Cassowary, which uses the bony protuberance on the top of its head to force its way through the dense rainforest. Then there are countless variety of parrot, cockatoo and hornbill, not to mention a pigeon the size of a turkey, and the pitihui, thought to be the only known example of a poisonous bird!

Natural Resources – The country is rich in minerals – gold and copper are mined extensively which together with oil, bring in three quarters of the country’s export earnings. Coconut and palm oil are also significant industries and PNG produces its own tea and coffee. The most spectacular resource – the trees of the rainforest – are being cut down at an alarming rate by loggers, however. Even so, companies have to tread carefully in this country as 97% of the country is owned by the people, and local clans expect compensation for lost land. When a copper mine polluted a river on the island of Bougainville in the 1980s, it provoked a ten year civil war and attempt at independence.

Eating people – Usually considered to be wrong in most parts of the world, cannibalism used to be very common in parts of PNG, and human flesh, usually of a tribe’s enemies, was a treated as a delicacy. Thankfully, the practice largely disappeared in the 1950s, which was good news for the tourist trade.

World’s largest butterfly – The Queen Alexandra Birdwing butterfly, with a wingspan of over 30cm, is a tricky creature to find, in spite of its size. It lives only in the coastal rainforest in the northern part of the island, stays mostly up in the canopy, 30 meters from the ground, and only lives for about three months. The caterpillar feeds on a poisonous plant, the pipevine, which makes it toxic to any potential predator.

Gender Relations – The Trobriand Islanders aroused great interest amongst students of human nature after the publication of research by the anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski in the 1920s. It appeared to show a reversal in the usual gender roles prevailing in most human societies. At the annual Yam Festival, the young maidens were very assertive in their quest for a mate, to the point where it was the custom for groups of adolescent girls to rape lone males.

Unusual musical instruments – Bamboo bands were popular in the islands in the 1970s, musicians who played tubes of bamboo by hitting them with sandals! An older instrument is the nose flute, a piece of bamboo from which sound is produced not by blowing through the mouth but through the nose. The preference for this method of playing may be connected to the idea that breath, which passes through the nasal cavity, is the essence of the human soul.

Infinite variety of plants – There are over 11,000 known types of plant in New Guinea, the most colourful being the country’s orchids, of which there are 3,000 different species. PNG is rich in food plants – tropical fruits, root and leaf vegetables, beans and nuts, along with many herbs, spices and flavourings including pepper, nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger and vanilla. Scientists hope that the islands’ yet uncatalogued plants could also hold cures for HIV, malaria and cancer.

New Guinea Singing Dog – Most dogs whine or howl from time to time, but this species actually sounds like it is singing. The song has been likened to a bird call or even the sounds that whales make. It looks similar to the Australian Dingo with a reddish coat and pointed ears, and was only ‘discovered’ in the 1950s when a pair was taken to a zoo in Sydney. Scientists think it was originally domesticated, and then escaped to the mountain forests where it now makes its home.

Earthquakes and tidal waves – Several tectonic plates meet under New Guinea and so it suffers from frequent earthquakes. These are often followed by tidal waves or tsunami. In July 1998, after an earthquake measuring 7.1 on the Richter scale, a tsunami ten metres high hit the north coast and more than 3,000 people lost their lives or went missing.

Airstrips – There were 560 at the last count – that’s one for every 10,000 people. (In comparison, Britain, with ten times the population, has only about 200). Going by plane is the easiest way to travel any distance as there are no railways, and the roads are often poor due to the mountainous terrain. And if you are responsible for a road accident, you may end up having your car stoned and burned, so you’re probably better off flying!

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It seems that their behavior is still backward. As it was mentioned in the article that "if someone was responsible for a road accident, he may end up having his car burned".

Do we need to learn such a strange language like that?
I would like to learn English only.

well.. this world is quite large and full of secret stuffs for us to explore..

be very careful.. PNG aboriginals is not friendly to foreigners.

Wow! what an interesting country. I wish I can visit that place. PNG seems a place for an adventure considering that I love exploring and experiencing new things. I've seen it on TV, at some travel shows but I didn't expect that there's more to this place. I will definitely include this on my list.

What an amazing place! I love trip and  hope to go to P N G sometimes

Your texts:

Zheng Jiemin sent the following text: Chang Jiang river and Huang He river- Chinese people originally developed their culture along these two main rivers about 5000 years ago. The two large rivers flow across China from the west to east, and run into the ocean in the east of the mainland. Huge quantity of people- In the 1950s, with the foundation of the People's Republic of China, cities and villages were reconstructed because of the political disturbance of nearly a century, and labour was in short supply. So the government encouraged families to raise as many children as possible. Twenty years later, neither the country nor the families could afford the increasing number of people. The “One Child policy" has been in effect since the end of the 1970s. Inward-lookingness, modesty and sincerity is regarded as virtues by the Chinese, so most of us are inward-looking persons. But with the influence of foreign cultures nowadays, this characteristic has changed a lot for the new generation. New look after opening up - China was poor because of a long history of war, but in the past 20 years, with the implementation of the opening up policy suggested by one of China's leaders, Deng Xiaoping, the economy has developed dramatically. A long history of cultivation - As one of the four ancient cultivated countries in the world, China has a long history of cultivation. The compass, gun powder, paper and printing technology were invented and first used in China.

Katerina, Daniel and Zuzana sent the following text: Cars: The Śkoda cars are simply clever. They are produced in Mladá Boleslav, approximately 50 km north of Prague. They are sold all over the world, even in Asia. Zlín is the birthplace of the businessman Tomáš Batˇa, who produced world-famous shoes. Surprisingly he also ran his business in South America. He actually built this city by constructing residential buildings for his employees. EU: We have been members of the EU since 1st May 2005. We entered with another 9 countries, mostly from eastern and central Europe. Thanks to the membership our inhabitants do not need visas to travel through the EU countries. Charles Bridge is one of the most beautiful and oldest (1357) bridges in central Europe. It is decorated with a lot of stone statues of saints. According to legend eggs were added to the mortar to make the bridge more tough. Hockey pucks used all over the world, and in the NHL, are produced in our country. The design is secret and it is kept by one family. Robot is a Czech word created by the Czech author Karel Čapek. It was used for the first time in his play Robots. It entered many foreign languages. Easter traditions include painting eggs and hitting women and girls with the Easter switch (to make them young and healthy). On the other hand the girls can throw water on the boys after noon. Some People of our country dress themselves in folk costumes. Prague is the most beautiful city in the world. It has many historical sights (for example Prague Castle, the old Jewish quarter or the Municipal House). It has kept its medieval centre with narrow winding streets. University: Charles University was the first in Central Europe. It was built by our Emperor Charles IV in 1348. It is the most prestige school in our republic. Beer is our national drink. We have the biggest beer consumption per head in the world. The most famous brands are Budweiser and Pilsner Urquell. Almost every husband goes every night to the pub to drink. Literature: Karel Čapek, Kundera, Erben, Hrabal and Hašek are world-famous Czech writers. You probably know the titles The Unbearable Lightness of Being, The Fortunes of the Good Soldier Svejk or Grandma. Ice hockey: World famous players are from the Czech Republic. For example Jaromir Jagr or Dominik Hasek. Our national team has won the World Cup five times and once even the Olympic tournament (1998 in Nagano). Cottage: Our greatest hobby is spending time in our cottages. People do gardening there or just simply relax. Some young people have parties there. There are usually colonies of cottages at the end of the small towns or in the country.

Lukas, Dragana and David wrote the following text: Cottage: Many people from Prague have small houses/cottages outside the city. They use them for relaxing, picking mushrooms, swimming and recuperating. Youngsters use them for private parties etc. You can have a barbecue party with your neighbours there. Zetor: Zetor is a Czech brand of tractors. It has a long tradition of over 100 years. Zetors have been used by Czech farmers for many years, now other brands of tractors are also used. Emil Zátopek is the most famous Czech runner who broke records in athletics. He is known for his specific style of running. Also his wife Daniela Zátopková was as famous as Emil. Charles Bridge is one of the most beautiful monuments in the centre of Prague. It is popular for its mysterious atmosphere, especially in the evening. You can meet a lot of tourists and nice strangers there. History: The Czech Republic has a long and interesting history. Many cities were built in the Middle Ages, like Cesky Krumlov, Telc and of course Prague. There are also many spa towns like Marienbad. Rusalka is one of the most famous Czech operas. It was written by Czech composer Antonín Dvořák. He composed From The New World. EU: The Czech Republic became a member of the EU last year. With that has come better chances for studying. Czech beer will now be distributed to more countries in Europe. Prague is the capital city. It is said to be one of the most beautiful cities in the world.Pilsen is a city near by Prague which is also very famous. University: Charles University was established in 1348. It was named after Charles IV, the most important king in Czech history. He was also the Holy Roman Emperor. Beer: There are many kinds of super-quality beer. Anyone who tastes it once, won’t drink anything else and it’s not so expensive. Lucerna is one of the most famous places for balls. Many important cultural happenings take place there. You can go there to a concert or just a party with your friends. Ice hockey: The Czech Republic is the world cup championship winner. The Czech team has even won the tournament of the century, as the winter Olympic games in Japan were known. Carp is a traditional Christmas food. It is the most common tradition connected with Christmas. Some people buy it still alive to have them in their bathrooms and to kill them themselves after that. top Your turnAs in the article above, write a series of sentences or paragraphs about your country. Each sentence or paragraph should begin with one of the letters that spell the name of your country. Send your opinion. LinksWikipedia: Papua New Guinea The World Fact Book: Papua New Guinea Lonely Planet: Papua New Guinea World Newspapers.com: Papua New Guinea newspapers onlineThe World-Wide Web Virtual Library: Papua New Guinea links The British Council is not responsible for the content of external websites.