• Papua New Guinea
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Papua New Guinea

By Dmitry Petrounin Dmitry Petrounin Section editor Profile
Forsaken, wild and fascinating land of the famous Papuans, Papua New Guinea is part of the most remote and inaccessible territories on the globe, one of the remaining places on the planet where some zones are yet to be explored. The land of adventurers in need of a total change of scenery, this country gathers over 600 tropical islands with sublime sea depths and three quarters of which is covered in old-growth and secondary-growth forest. A unique experience in contact with some of the most "primitive" peoples on the planet. Their ethnic tribal art is fascinating, as much for the beauty of the body paintings as for the decoration of their objects (weapons, masks, statues) - these form just a few reasons to travel to Papua New Guineau.

Our Editorial team's advice

Take good hiking equipment with you and complete camping material, in particular mosquito nets and rain proof canvas covers. Out of town, where hotels and restaurants are expensive, you can always find a place to stay, whether with a family who will put you up or in a village school or even a police station. It is always safer than just planting your tent anywhere in the middle of nowhere. Although hospitality is the rule in villages, travellers must always leave a little money for the food and bed. It is possible to organize a trek by yourself in the Highlands or a canoe cruise down the Sepik by hiring a local guide (prices are 20 kinas in general per day for the guide and 10 kinas for the porter). But, from the UK or on the spot, the easiest and safest way is to go through specialised agencies as they offer a wide range of sports activities and hikes.

pros

  • +The change of scenery and exoticism can be experienced in the heart of unspoilt nature and in the company of the most "primitive" peoples on the planet.
  • +The tropical islands and sea depths are splendid and heavenly.
  • +Tribal art is fascinating, as much for the beauty of the body paintings as for the richly decorated objects (weapons, masks, statues).
  • +The thrill of an adventure and the pleasure of wandering off the beaten tracks are intense. You are here in one of the last remaining places on Earth where some zones are yet unexplored.

cons

  • -The flight fares and prices of package holidays and tourist services are generally very high.
  • -Crime is increasing and the insecurity is palpable.

Traditions

Except for the major cities, the majority of the population live in small isolated villages where people practise subsistence agriculture, harvesting and hunting. Papuan traditional society neglects the use of metal, all objects being made of wood, bone, stone and clay brick. Extensive farming and breeding, except for a few pigs, remained impossible on this very unfertile, steep and hilly land. Tribes still widely practise barter economy (for a long time, sea shells were used as currency) and some are still nomadic although the settling process is increasing. Social structures rely on small family and clan units where community life imposes the sharing of goods and solidarity among wantoks - the members of one same clan or village. The village's eldest have authority over other members, unless it is one "great man" who will have proved worthy of it by its bravery and generosity. A person will acquire more power if they share out riches, creating thus a solid network of allies and obligees. In the Highlands, war and cannibalism between hostile tribes were for a long time common practises, triggering in return never ending retaliation raids. Although tribal wars sometimes break out sporadically, they appear as very ritualised and end with a very limited number of victims. Visitors may have the chance to attend a traditional festival, or "sing sing", for which the village people wear brightly coloured costumes and body paint.

Food

Except for the delicious fish, lobster and seafood which you can find all along the coast and on the islands, Papuan cuisine isn't in any way sensational. The basic food diet consists of kaukau (sweet potatoes), bananas, taro and saksak - a whitish paste extracted from sago palm trees. In cities, cooking has more of a Western or Eastern aspect, with coconut based dishes and spicy sauces. People there eat little meat, except for pork, chicken and mutton imported from New Zealand as well as beef meatballs served with rice and noodles. On the markets however, you will find numerous exotic fruits.

Souvenirs

Things to take home: essentially tribal handicraft. You will find, then, beautiful pottery, basketry as well as weapons (bows and arrows, harpoons, spears, axes, decorated shields), musical instruments and masks all over the Sepik valley and in the Highlands. Trobriand island's and New Ireland's handicraft is also very beautiful. The prices of the beautiful objects are often very high. Thus, it is best to limit your purchases to one beautiful piece, rather than buying a large quantity of poor quality souvenirs. It is prohibited to export ancient objects however, you should therefore get the necessary information before the purchase. People don't usually haggle. Shops are usually open from 9 am to 5 pm, from Monday to Friday and from 9 am to 12 pm on Saturdays.