About Papua New Guinea
Papua New Guinea is one of the most linguistically diverse countries in the world. There are 851 known languages in the country, of which 11 now have no known speakers. As of 2019, it is also the most rural, as only 13.25% of its people live in urban centres. Most of the population of more than 8,000,000 people live in customary communities, which are as diverse as the languages. The country is one of the world’s least explored, culturally and geographically. It is known to have numerous groups of uncontacted peoples, and researchers believe there are many undiscovered species of plants and animals in the interior.
Papua New Guinea
Papua New Guinea (PNG; /ˈpæp(j)uə … ˈɡɪni, ˈpɑː-/, also US: /ˈpɑːpwə-, ˈpɑːpjə-, ˈpɑːpə-/; Tok Pisin: Papua Niugini; Hiri Motu: Papua Niu Gini), officially the Independent State of Papua New Guinea (Tok Pisin: Independen Stet bilong Papua Niugini; Hiri Motu: Independen Stet bilong Papua Niu Gini), is a country in Oceania that comprises the eastern half of the island of New Guinea and its offshore islands in Melanesia (a region of the southwestern Pacific Ocean north of Australia). Its capital, located along its southeastern coast, is Port Moresby. It is the world’s third largest island country with an area of 462,840 km2 (178,700 sq mi).
At the national level, after being ruled by three external powers since 1884, Papua New Guinea established its sovereignty in 1975. This followed nearly 60 years of Australian administration, which started during World War I. It became an independent Commonwealth realm in 1975 with Elizabeth II as its queen. It also became a member of the Commonwealth of Nations in its own right.
Papua New Guinea is one of the most linguistically diverse countries in the world. There are 851 known languages in the country, of which 11 now have no known speakers. As of 2019, it is also the most rural, as only 13.25% of its people live in urban centres.
Most of the population of more than 8,000,000 people live in customary communities, which are as diverse as the languages. The country is one of the world’s least explored, culturally and geographically. It is known to have numerous groups of uncontacted peoples, and researchers believe there are many undiscovered species of plants and animals in the interior.
The sovereign state is classified as a developing economy by the International Monetary Fund. Nearly 40% of the population lives a self-sustainable natural lifestyle with no access to global capital. Most of the people live in strong traditional social groups based on farming.
Their social lives combine traditional religion with modern practices, including primary education. These societies and clans are explicitly acknowledged by the Papua New Guinea Constitution, which expresses the wish for “traditional villages and communities to remain as viable units of Papua New Guinean society” and protects their continuing importance to local and national community life.
The nation is an observer state in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) since 1976 and has filed its application for full membership status. It is a full member of the Commonwealth of Nations, the Pacific Community, and the Pacific Islands Forum.
Etymology of Papua New Guinea
The word ‘papua’ is derived from an old local term of uncertain origin. “New Guinea” (Nueva Guinea) was the name coined by the Spanish explorer Yñigo Ortiz de Retez. In 1545, he noted the resemblance of the people to those he had earlier seen along the Guinea coast of Africa.
Guinea, in its turn, is etymologically derived from the Portuguese word Guiné. The name is one of several toponyms sharing similar etymologies, ultimately meaning “land of the blacks” or similar meanings, in reference to the dark skin of the inhabitants.
History of Papua New Guinea
Archaeological evidence indicates that humans first arrived in Papua New Guinea around 42,000 to 45,000 years ago. They were descendants of migrants out of Africa, in one of the early waves of human migration.
Agriculture was independently developed in the New Guinea highlands around 7000 BC, making it one of the few areas in the world where people independently domesticated plants.
A major migration of Austronesian-speaking peoples to coastal regions of New Guinea took place around 500 BC. This has been correlated with the introduction of pottery, pigs, and certain fishing techniques.
In the 18th century, traders brought the sweet potato to New Guinea, where it was adopted and became a staple food. Portuguese traders had obtained it from South America and introduced it to the Moluccas.
The far higher crop yields from sweet potato gardens radically transformed traditional agriculture and societies. Sweet potato largely supplanted the previous staple, taro, and resulted in a significant increase in population in the highlands.
Although by the late 20th century headhunting and cannibalism had been practically eradicated, in the past they were practised in many parts of the country as part of rituals related to warfare and taking in enemy spirits or powers.
In 1901, on Goaribari Island in the Gulf of Papua, missionary Harry Dauncey found 10,000 skulls in the island’s long houses, a demonstration of past practices.
According to Marianna Torgovnick, writing in 1991, “The most fully documented instances of cannibalism as a social institution come from New Guinea, where head-hunting and ritual cannibalism survived, in certain isolated areas, into the Fifties, Sixties, and Seventies, and still leave traces within certain social groups.”
European encounters in Papua New Guinea
Little was known in Europe about the island until the 19th century, although Portuguese and Spanish explorers, such as Dom Jorge de Menezes and Yñigo Ortiz de Retez, had encountered it as early as the 16th century. Traders from Southeast Asia had visited New Guinea beginning 5,000 years ago to collect bird-of-paradise plumes.
Colonialism in Papua New Guinea
New Guinea from 1884 to 1919. Germany and Britain controlled the eastern half of New Guinea.
The country’s dual name results from its complex administrative history before independence. In the nineteenth century, Germany ruled the northern half of the country for some decades, beginning in 1884, as a colony named German New Guinea.
In 1914 after the outbreak of World War I, Australian forces captured German New Guinea and occupied it throughout the war. After the war, in which Germany and the Central Powers were defeated, the League of Nations authorised Australia to administer this area as a League of Nations mandate territory that became the Territory of New Guinea.
Also 1884, the southern part of the country became a British protectorate. In 1888 it was annexed, together with some adjacent islands, by Britain as British New Guinea.
In 1902, Papua was effectively transferred to the authority of the new British dominion of Australia. With the passage of the Papua Act 1905, the area was officially renamed the Territory of Papua, and Australian administration became formal in 1906.
In contrast to establishing an Australian mandate in former German New Guinea, the League of Nations determined that Papua was an external territory of the Australian Commonwealth; as a matter of law it remained a British possession.
The difference in legal status meant that until 1949, Papua and New Guinea had entirely separate administrations, both controlled by Australia. These conditions contributed to the complexity of organising the country’s post-independence legal system.
During World War II, the New Guinea campaign (1942–1945) was one of the major military campaigns and conflicts between Japan and the Allies. Approximately 216,000 Japanese, Australian, and U.S. servicemen died. After World War II and the victory of the Allies, the two territories were combined into the Territory of Papua and New Guinea. This was later referred to as “Papua New Guinea”.
The natives of Papua appealed to the United Nations for oversight and independence. The nation established independence from Australia on 16 September 1975, becoming a Commonwealth realm, continuing to share Queen Elizabeth II as its head of state. It maintains close ties with Australia, which continues to be its largest aid donor. Papua New Guinea was admitted to membership in the United Nations on 10 October 1975.
Bougainville in Papua New Guinea
[Australian patrol officer in 1964]
A secessionist revolt in 1975–76 on Bougainville Island resulted in an eleventh-hour modification of the draft Constitution of Papua New Guinea to allow for Bougainville and the other eighteen districts to have quasi-federal status as provinces. A renewed uprising on Bougainville started in 1988 and claimed 20,000 lives until it was resolved in 1997.
Bougainville had been the primary mining region of the country, generating 40% of the national budget. The native peoples felt they were bearing the adverse environmental effects of the mining, which contaminated the land, water and air, without gaining a fair share of the profits.
The government and rebels negotiated a peace agreement that established the Bougainville Autonomous District and Province. The autonomous Bougainville elected Joseph Kabui as president in 2005, who served until his death in 2008.
He was succeeded by his deputy John Tabinaman as acting president while an election to fill the unexpired term was organised. James Tanis won that election in December 2008 and served until the inauguration of John Momis, the winner of the 2010 elections.
As part of the current peace settlement, a non-binding independence referendum was held, between 23 November and 7 December 2019. The referendum question was a choice between greater autonomy within Papua New Guinea and full independence for Bougainville, and voters voted overwhelmingly (98.31%) for independence.
Chinese minority in Papua New Guinea
Main article: Chinese people in Papua New Guinea
Numerous Chinese have worked and lived in Papua New Guinea, establishing Chinese-majority communities. Anti-Chinese rioting involving tens of thousands of people broke out in May 2009. The initial spark was a fight between ethnic Chinese and indigenous workers at a nickel factory under construction by a Chinese company. Native resentment against Chinese ownership of numerous small businesses and their commercial monopoly in the islands led to the rioting.
African community of Papua New Guinea
There is existing collaboration between Papua New Guinea and African countries. Papua New Guinea is part of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) forum. There is a thriving community of Africans who live and work in the country.
Earthquakes in Papua New Guinea
From March to April 2018, a chain of earthquakes hit Papua New Guinea, causing various damage. Various nations from Oceania, Australia, the Philippines and Timor-Leste immediately sent aid to the country.
Government and politics of Papua New Guinea
Main article: Politics of Papua New Guinea
Papua New Guinea is a Commonwealth realm with Elizabeth II as Queen of Papua New Guinea. The constitutional convention, which prepared the draft constitution, and Australia, the outgoing metropolitan power, had thought that Papua New Guinea would not remain a monarchy.
The founders, however, considered that imperial honours had a cachet. The monarch is represented by the Governor-General of Papua New Guinea, currently Bob Dadae. Papua New Guinea, and Solomon Islands, are unusual among Commonwealth realms in that governors-general are elected by the legislature, rather than chosen by the executive branch.
The Prime Minister heads the cabinet, which consists of 31 members of Parliament from the ruling coalition, which make up the government. The current prime minister is James Marape.
The unicameral National Parliament has 111 seats, of which 22 are occupied by the governors of the 22 provinces and the National Capital District. Candidates for members of parliament are voted upon when the prime minister asks the governor-general to call 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 changes of the government, but with referral to the electorate, through national elections only occurring every five years.
In recent years, successive governments have passed legislation preventing such votes sooner than 18 months after a national election and within 12 months of the next election. In 2012, the first two (of three) readings were passed to prevent votes of no confidence occurring within the first 30 months.
This restriction on votes of no confidence has arguably resulted in greater stability, although perhaps at a cost of reducing the accountability of the executive branch of government.
Elections in PNG attract numerous candidates. After independence in 1975, members were elected by the first-past-the-post system, with winners frequently gaining less than 15% of the vote. Electoral reforms in 2001 introduced the Limited Preferential Vote system (LPV), a version of the alternative vote. The 2007 general election was the first to be conducted using LPV.
Under a 2002 amendment, the leader of the party winning the largest number of seats in the election is invited by the governor-general to form the government, if they can muster the necessary majority in parliament.
The process of forming such a coalition in PNG, where parties do not have much ideology, involves considerable “horse-trading” right up until the last moment.
Peter O’Neill emerged as Papua New Guinea’s prime minister after the July 2012 election, and formed a government with Leo Dion, the former Governor of East New Britain Province, as deputy prime minister.
Prime Minister James Marape of PNG
In 2011 there was a constitutional crisis between the parliament-elect Prime Minister, Peter O’Neill (voted into office by a large majority of MPs), and Sir Michael Somare, who was deemed by the supreme court to retain office.
The stand-off between parliament and the supreme court continued until the July 2012 national elections, with legislation passed effectively removing the chief justice and subjecting the supreme court members to greater control by the legislature, as well as a series of other laws passed, for example limiting the age for a prime minister.
The confrontation reached a peak, with the deputy prime minister entering the supreme court during a hearing, escorted by police, ostensibly to arrest the chief justice.
There was strong pressure among some MPs to defer the national elections for a further six months to one year, although their powers to do that were highly questionable.
The parliament-elect prime minister and other cooler-headed MPs carried the votes for the writs for the new election to be issued, slightly late, but for the election itself to occur on time, thereby avoiding a continuation of the constitutional crisis.
In May 2019, O’Neill resigned as prime minister and was replaced through a vote of Parliament by James Marape. Marape was a key minister in O’Neill’s government and his defection from the government to the opposition camp had finally led to O’Neill’s resignation from office. Davis Steven was appointed deputy prime minister, justice Minister and Attorney General.
Law of PNG
Main article: Law of Papua New Guinea
The unicameral Parliament enacts legislation in the same manner as in other Commonwealth realms that use the Westminster system of government.
The cabinet collectively agrees on government policy, then the relevant minister introduces bills to Parliament, depending on which government department is responsible for implementation of a particular law. Back bench members of parliament can also introduce bills.
Parliament debates bills, and (section 110.1 of the Constitution) they become enacted laws when the Speaker certifies that Parliament has passed them. There is no Royal assent.
All ordinary statutes enacted by Parliament must be consistent with the Constitution. The courts have jurisdiction to rule on the constitutionality of statutes, both in disputes before them and on a reference where there is no dispute but only an abstract question of law.
Unusually among developing countries, the judicial branch of government in Papua New Guinea has remained remarkably independent, and successive executive governments have continued to respect its authority.
The “underlying law” (Papua New Guinea’s common law) consists of principles and rules of common law and equity in English common law as it stood on 16 September 1975 (the date of independence), and thereafter the decisions of PNG’s own courts.
The courts are directed by the Constitution and, latterly, the Underlying Law Act, to take note of the “custom” of traditional communities. They are to determine which customs are common to the whole country and may be declared also to be part of the underlying law.
In practice, this has proved difficult and has been largely neglected. Statutes are largely adapted from overseas jurisdictions, primarily Australia and England. Advocacy in the courts follows the adversarial pattern of other common-law countries.
This national court system, used in towns and cities, is supported by a village court system in the more remote areas. The law underpinning the village courts is ‘customary law’.
Foreign relations of PNG
[APEC 2018 in Papua New Guinea]
Main article: Foreign relations of Papua New Guinea
Papua New Guinea is a member of the Commonwealth of Nations, Pacific Community, Pacific Islands Forum, and the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) of countries. It was accorded observer status within ASEAN in 1976, followed later by special observer status in 1981. It is also a member of APEC and an ACP country, associated with the European Union.
Papua New Guinea supported Indonesia’s control of Western New Guinea: the focus of the Papua conflict where numerous human rights violations have reportedly been committed by the Indonesian security forces. In September 2017, Papua New Guinea rejected the West Papuan Independence Petition in the UN General Assembly.