A Glance at Papua New Guinea

Korea Times (Seoul, Korea), September 16, 2000 | Go to article overview
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A Glance at Papua New Guinea


Papua New Guinea is located on the eastern half of the island of New Guinea and is 160 kilometers north of Australia. The western half of the island is Irian Jaya, a province of Indonesia. Papua New Guinea comprises both the mainland and some 600 offshore islands. It has a total land area of 460,000 square kilometers and is about the same size as Thailand.

The country is relatively young and its geography is diverse which is characterized by high mountain ranges, deep valleys and swift rivers in the interior and open plains, tropical forests and swampy inlets in the coastal region.

Located just south of the equator, Papua New Guinea experiences a moderate tropical with high levels of seasonal rainfall. In the highlands temperatures can range from a low of four degrees Celsius to a high 32 degrees Celsius. The lowland, coastal and island areas have an average daily temperature of 27 degrees Celsius.

About 20 percent of Papua New Guineans live in the major urban centers. The major city and capital of the country is Port Moresby with a population of about 250,000. Other large towns and cities include Lae, Madang, Wewak and Goroka.

The People, Language and Religion Papua New Guineans, most of whom are Melanesians, vary widely in their physical, ethnic and cultural characteristics. Papua New Guinea is, in fact, the most heterogeneous country in the world. The centuries old heritage of Melanesian society maintains a strong influence over most of the population.

Long before the concept of democracy was established in Europe, Papua New Guinea communities were reaching decisions by consensus and not by the dictates of the most powerful member of the village. This concept of democratic consensus in decision-making is evident in most aspects of today's society.

The Papua New Guinean attitude to the land is also very different from many other countries. Land is not a commodity that can be bought and sold by individuals -- it is a permanent and integral part of a village community. Land is owned and maintained by generations of clans. Although they cannot sell the land, individuals can hand over their own usage rights. About two-thirds of the population is Christians, Catholicism being the largest denomination in the country.

Economy Two distinct economies exist side-by-side in Papua New Guinea -- the traditional and the cash economies. The traditional sector, mainly subsistence and semi-subsistence farming, supports about 85 percent of the population. Most villages are self-sufficient and small surpluses of produce are available for trading.

Papua New Guinea exports mainly minerals and agricultural commodities. The National Government encourages more production onshore for the needs of the population and for export.

The economy is dominated by mineral and petroleum projects. However, the agriculture, forestry, fishing and manufacturing sectors combined still account for significant portion of the nation's gross domestic product.

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