Papua New Guinea -- Geography --
Papua New Guinea is mostly mountainous (its highest peak is Mount Wilhelm at 4 509 m)
and mostly covered with tropical rainforest, as well as very large wetland areas surrounding the Sepik and Fly rivers.
Papua New Guinea is surrounded by coral reefs which are under close watch to preserve them.
The country is situated on the Pacific Ring of Fire, at the point of collision of several tectonic plates.
There are a number of active volcanoes, and eruptions are frequent. Earthquakes are relatively common,
sometimes accompanied by tsunamis.
The mainland of the country is the eastern half of New Guinea island,
where the largest towns are also located, including the capital Port Moresby and Lae.
Other major islands within Papua New Guinea include New Ireland, New Britain, Manus and Bougainville.
Papua New Guinea is one of the few regions close to the equator that experience snowfall, which occurs
in the most elevated parts of the mainland.
Papua New Guinea -- History --
Little was known in the West about the island until the nineteenth century,
although traders from Southeast Asia had been visiting New Guinea as long as 5 000 years ago collecting bird of paradise plumes,
and Spanish and Portuguese explorers had encountered it as early as the sixteenth century (1526 and 1527 Dom Jorge de Meneses).
The country's dual name results from its complex administrative history before Independence.
The word papua is derived from pepuah a Malay word describing the frizzy Melanesian hair, and "New Guinea" (Nueva Guinea)
was the name coined by the Spanish explorer Ynigo Ortiz de Retez, who in 1545 noted the resemblance of the people
to those he had earlier seen along the Guinea coast of Africa.
The northern half of the country came into German hands in 1884 as German New Guinea. During World War I,
it was occupied by Australia, which had begun administering British New Guinea, the southern part, as the renamed Papua in 1904.
After World War I, Australia was given a mandate to administer the former German New Guinea by the League of Nations.
Papua, by contrast, was deemed to be an External Territory of the Australian Commonwealth, though as a matter of law it
remained a British possession, an issue which had significance for the country's post-Independence legal system after 1975.
This difference in legal status meant that Papua and New Guinea had entirely separate administrations, both controlled by Australia.
The New Guinea campaign (1942-1945) was one of the major military campaigns of World War II.
Approximately 216 000 Japanese, Australian and American soldiers, sailors and airmen died during the New Guinea Campaign.
The two territories were combined into the Territory of Papua and New Guinea after World War II, which later was simply referred to
as "Papua New Guinea". The Administration of Papua became open to United Nations oversight. However, certain statutes continued
(and continue) to have application only in one of the two territories, a matter considerably complicated today by the adjustment
of the former boundary among contiguous provinces with respect to road access and language groups,
so that such statutes apply on one side only of a boundary which no longer exists.
Peaceful independence from Australia, the de facto metropolitan power, occurred on September 16 1975,
and close ties remain (Australia remains the largest bilateral aid donor to Papua New Guinea).
Papua New Guinea -- Economy --
Papua New Guinea is richly endowed with natural resources, but exploitation has been hampered by rugged terrain,
the high cost of developing infrastructure, serious law and order problems, and the system of land title which makes identifying
the owners of land for the purpose of negotiating appropriate agreements problematic. Agriculture provides
a subsistence livelihood for 85% of the population. Mineral deposits, including oil, copper, and gold, account for 72% of export earnings.
The country also has a notable coffee industry. Former Prime Minister Sir Mekere Morauta tried to restore integrity to state institutions,
stabilize the kina, restore stability to the national budget, privatize public enterprises where appropriate,
and ensure ongoing peace on Bougainville following the 1997 agreement which ended Bougainville's secessionist unrest.
The Morauta government had considerable success in attracting international support, specifically gaining the backing
of the IMF and the World Bank in securing development assistance loans. Significant challenges face
the current Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare, including gaining further investor confidence, continuing efforts to privatize
government assets, and maintaining the support of members of Parliament. In March 2006 the United Nations Committee for Development Policy
called for Papua New Guinea's designation of developing country to be downgraded to least-developed country
because of protracted economic and social stagnation. However, an evaluation by the International Monetary Fund
in late 2008 found that "a combination of prudent fiscal and monetary policies, and high global prices for mineral commodity exports,
have underpinned Papua New Guinea's recent buoyant economic growth and macroeconomic stability. Real GDP growth, at over 6% in 2007,
was broad-based and is expected to continue to be strong in 2008."
Papua New Guinea -- Culture --
It is estimated that more than a thousand different cultural groups exist in Papua New Guinea.
Because of this diversity, many different styles of cultural expression have emerged.
Ňach group has created its own expressive forms in art, dance, weaponry, costumes, singing, music, architecture.
Most of these different cultural groups have their own language. People typically live in villages that rely on subsistence farming.
In some areas people hunt and collect wild plants (such as yam roots) to supplement their diets.
Those who become skilled at hunting, farming and fishing earn a great deal of respect.
On the Sepik river, there is a tradition of wood carving,
often in the form of plants or animals, representing ancestor spirits.
Sea shells are no longer the currency of Papua New Guinea, as they were in some regions -
sea shells were abolished as currency in 1933. However, this heritage is still present in local customs.
In some cultures, to get a bride, a groom must bring a certain number of golden-edged clam shells as a bride price.
In other regions, bride price is paid in lengths of shell money, pigs, cassowaries or cash.
Elsewhere, bride price is unknown, and it is brides who must pay dowry.
People of the highlands engage in colourful local rituals that are called "sing sings".
They paint themselves and dress up with feathers, pearls and animal skins to represent birds, trees or mountain spirits.
Sometimes an important event, such as a legendary battle, is enacted at such a musical festival.
Papua New Guinea -- Political system --
Papua New Guinea is a member of the Commonwealth of Nations, and Queen Elizabeth II is the head of state.
It had been expected by the constitutional convention, which prepared the draft constitution, and by Australia,
the outgoing metropolitan power, that Papua New Guinea would choose not to retain its link with the British monarchy.
The founders, however, considered that imperial honours had a cachet that the newly independent state would not be able
to confer with a purely indigenous honours system ó the Monarchy was thus maintained.
The Queen is represented by the Governor-General of Papua New Guinea, currently Sir Paulias Matane.
Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands are unusual among Commonwealth realms in that their Governors-General
are effectively selected by the legislature rather than by the executive branch, as in some parliamentary democracies.
Actual executive power lies with the Prime Minister, who heads the cabinet.
The current Prime Minister is Sir Michael Somare. The unicameral National Parliament has 109 seats,
of which 20 are occupied by the governors of the 19 provinces and the National Capital District (NCD).
Candidates for members of parliament are voted upon when the prime minister calls a national election, a maximum of five years
after the previous national election. In the early years of independence, the instability of the party system
led to frequent votes of no confidence in Parliament with resulting falls of the government of the day and the need for national elections,
in accordance with the conventions of parliamentary democracy. In recent years, successive governments have passed
legislation preventing such votes sooner than 18 months after a national election.
This has arguably resulted in greater stability, though perhaps at a cost of reducing
the accountability of the executive branch of government.