Surface area : 462840.0 km2
Population : 5940775 inhabitants
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.
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.
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.
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.