History of Papua New Guinea

History of Papua New Guinea

The history of Papua New Guinea can be traced back to about 60,000 years ago when people first migrated towards the Australian continent. The written history began when European navigators first sighted New Guinea in the early part of the 16th century.

First arrivals

Archaeological evidence indicates that humans arrived on New Guinea at least 60,000 years ago, probably by sea from Southeast Asia during an ice age period when the sea was lower and distances between islands shorter. For an overview of the geological history of the continent of which New Guinea is a part, see Australia-New Guinea.

Although the first arrivals were hunters and gatherers, early evidence shows that people managed the forest environment to provide food.

The gardens of the New Guinea highlands are ancient, intensive permacultures, adapted to high population densities, very high rainfalls (as high as 10,000mm/yr (400in/yr)), earthquakes, hilly land, and occasional frost. There are indications that gardening was being practiced at the same time that agriculture was developing in Mesopotamia and Egypt.

Complex mulches, crop rotations and tillages are used in rotation on terraces with complex irrigation systems. Western agronomists still do not understand all practices, and native gardeners are notably more successful than most scientific farmers. Some authorities believe that New Guinea gardeners invented crop rotation well before western Europeans.

Early garden crops - many of which are indigenous - included sugarcane, Pacific bananas, yams, and taro, while sago and pandanus were two commonly exploited native forest crops. Today's staples - sweet potatoes and pigs - are later arrivals, but shellfish and fish have long been mainstays of coastal dwellers' diets.

A unique feature of New Guinea permaculture is the silviculture of "Casuarina oligodon", a tall, sturdy native ironwood tree, suited to use for timber and fuel, with root nodules that fix nitrogen. Pollen studies show that it was adopted during an ancient period of extreme deforestation.

European discovery

When Europeans first arrived, inhabitants of New Guinea and nearby islands - while still relying on bone, wood, and stone tools - had a productive agricultural system. They traded along the coast, mainly in pottery, shell ornaments and foodstuffs, and in the interior, where forest products were exchanged for shells and other sea products.

The first Europeans to sight New Guinea were probably the Portuguese and Spanish navigators sailing in the South Pacific in the early part of the 16th century. In 1526-27, Don Jorge de Meneses/Menezes accidentally came upon the principal island and is credited with naming it Papua, a Malay word for the frizzled quality of Melanesian hair. The term New Guinea was applied to the island in 1545 by a Spaniard, Yñigo Ortiz de Retez, because of a fancied resemblance between the islands' inhabitants and those found on the African Guinea coast.

Although European navigators visited the islands and explored their coastlines thereafter, little was known of the inhabitants by Europeans until the 1870s, when Russian anthropologist Nicholai Miklukho-Maklai made a number of expeditions to New Guinea, spending several years living among native tribes, and described their way of life in a comprehensive treatise.

Territory of Papua

In 1883, the Colony of Queensland purported to annex the southern half of eastern New Guinea. On November 6, 1884, a British protectorate was proclaimed over the southern coast of New Guinea and its adjacent islands. The protectorate, called British New Guinea, was annexed outright on September 4, 1888. The possession was placed under the authority of the Commonwealth of Australia in 1902. Following the passage of the Papua Act, 1905, British New Guinea became the Territory of Papua, and formal Australian administration began in 1906, although Papua remained "de jure" a British possession until the independence of Papua New Guinea in 1975. Papua was administered under the "Papua Act" until it was invaded by the Empire of Japan in 1941, and civil administration suspended. During the Pacific War, Papua was governed by an Australian military administration from Port Moresby, where General Douglas MacArthur occasionally made his headquarters.

German New Guinea

With Europe's growing desire for coconut oil, Godeffroy's of Hamburg, the largest trading firm in the Pacific, began trading for copra in the New Guinea Islands. In 1884, the German Empire formally took possession of the northeast quarter of the island and put its administration in the hands of a chartered trading company formed for the purpose, the "German New Guinea Company". In the charter granted to this company by the German Imperial Government in May of 1885, it was given the power to exercise sovereign rights over the territory and other "unoccupied" lands in the name of the government, and the ability to "negotiate" directly with the native inhabitants. Relationships with foreign powers were retained as the preserve of the German government. The "Neu Guinea Kompanie" paid for the local governmental institutions directly, in return for the concessions which had been awarded to it.

In 1899, the German imperial government assumed direct control of the territory, thereafter known as German New Guinea. In 1914, Australian troops occupied German New Guinea, and it remained under Australian military control through World War I until 1921.

Territory of New Guinea

The Commonwealth of Australia assumed a mandate from the League of Nations for governing the former German territory of New Guinea in 1920. It was administered under this mandate until the Japanese invasion in December 1941 brought about the suspension of Australian civil administration. Much of the Territory of New Guinea, including the islands of Bougainville and New Britain, was occupied by Japanese forces before being recaptured by Australian and American forces during the final months of the war (see New Guinea campaign).

The Territory of Papua and New Guinea

Following the surrender of the Japanese in 1945, civil administration of Papua as well as New Guinea was restored, and under the Papua New Guinea Provisional Administration Act, (1945-46), Papua and New Guinea were combined in an administrative union.

The Papua and New Guinea Act 1949 formally approved the placing of New Guinea under the international trusteeship system and confirmed the administrative union under the title of The Territory of Papua and New Guinea. The act provided for a Legislative Council (established in 1951), a judicial organization, a public service, and a system of local government. A House of Assembly replaced the Legislative Council in 1963, and the first House of Assembly opened on June 8, 1964. In 1972, the name of the territory was changed to Papua New Guinea.


Elections in 1972 resulted in the formation of a ministry headed by Chief Minister Michael Somare, who pledged to lead the country to self-government and then to independence. Papua New Guinea became self-governing on December 1, 1973 and achieved independence on September 16, 1975. The 1977 national elections confirmed Michael Somare as Prime Minister at the head of a coalition led by the Pangu Party. However, his government lost a vote of confidence in 1980 and was replaced by a new cabinet headed by Sir Julius Chan as prime minister. The 1982 elections increased Pangu's plurality, and parliament again chose Somare as prime minister. In November 1985, the Somare government lost another vote of no confidence, and the parliamentary majority elected Paias Wingti, at the head of a five-party coalition, as prime minister. A coalition, headed by Wingti, was victorious in very close elections in July 1987. In July 1988, a no-confidence vote toppled Wingti and brought to power Rabbie Namaliu, who a few weeks earlier had replaced Somare as leader of the Pangu Party.

Such reversals of fortune and a revolving-door succession of prime ministers continue to characterize Papua New Guinea's national politics. A plethora of political parties, coalition governments, shifting party loyalties and motions of no confidence in the leadership all lend an air of instability to political proceedings.

Under legislation intended to enhance stability, new governments remain immune from no-confidence votes for the first 18 months of their incumbency.

A nine-year secessionist revolt on the island of Bougainville claimed some 20,000 lives. The rebellion began in early 1989, active hostilities ended with a truce in October 1997 and a permanent ceasefire was signed in April 1998. A peace agreement between the Government and ex-combatants was signed in August 2001. A regional peace-monitoring force and a UN observer mission monitors the government and provincial leaders who have established an interim administration and are working toward complete surrender of weapons, the election of a provincial government and an eventual referendum on independence.

Although close relations have been maintained since peaceful independence and Australia remains the largest bilateral aid donor to Papua New Guinea, relations with Australia have recently shown signs of strain. While on a state visit in March 2005, Prime Minister Somare was asked to submit to a security check and remove his shoes upon arriving at the airport in Brisbane. Despite demands from the PNG government that Australia apologize, the latter refused. Additionally, problems have arisen with regard to Australia's latest aid package for the country. Valued at A$760 million, the program was to tackle crime and corruption in PNG by sending 200 Australian police to Port Moresby and installing 40 Australian officials within the national bureaucracy. However, after the first detachment of police arrived, Papua New Guinea's high court ruled that the arrangement was unconstitutional, and the police returned home. A new arrangement, by which only 30 officers will serve as a training force for the local force has been described by the Australian foreign minister as "second-best". [Cite news |url=http://www.economist.com/displayStory.cfm?Story_ID=S'(X%20.Q!_*!%40!-%0A |title=Thirty Years On |work=The Economist |date=2005-08-25]

See also

*Papua New Guinea


External links

* [http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/bgn/2797.htm U.S. State Department Background Note: Papua New Guinea]
* [http://www.historyofnations.net/oceania/papuanewguinea.html History of Papua New Guinea]

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