.Posted: 2000

Papua New Guinea

Papua New Guinea


The first inhabitants of the island New Guinea were African people of various ethnic groups called tribes, who altogether spoke more than 700 distinct languages. The eastern half of New Guinea was first explored by Spanish and Portuguese explorers in the 16th century. In 1828, the Dutch formally took possession of the western half of the island (now the province of Irian Jaya, Indonesia). In 1885, Germany formally annexed the northern coast and Britain took similar action in the south. In 1906, Britain transferred its rights to British New Guinea to a newly independent Australia, and the name of the territory was changed to the Territory of Papua. Australian troops invaded German New Guinea (called Kaiser-Wilhelmsland) in World War I and gained control of the territory under a League of Nations mandate. New Guinea and some of Papua were invaded by Japanese forces in 1942. After being liberated by the Australians in 1945, it became a United Nations trusteeship, administered by Australia. The territories were combined and called the Territory of Papua and New Guinea.

Australia granted limited home rule in 1951. Autonomy in internal affairs came nine years later, and in Sept. 1995, Papua New Guinea achieved complete independence from Britain in Sept. 1975, becoming, at that time, a full member of the Commonwealth.

A violent nine-year secessionist movement took place on the island of Bougainville. In 1989, guerrillas of the Bougainville Revolutionary Army (BRA) shut down the island's Australian-owned copper mine, a major source of revenue for Australia with little benefits going to the indigenous people of the country. The rebels believed that Bougainville deserved a greater share of the earnings for its copper. In 1990, the BRA declared Bougainville's independence, whereupon the government blockaded the island until Jan. 1991, when a peace treaty was signed. In 1997, Papua New Guinea's government hired South African mercenary soldiers to fight on Bougainville in order to end the long-running crisis, but this action led to massive demonstrations and the mercenary contract was rescinded. In April 1998, a cease-fire was declared.

On July 17, 1998, an earthquake-triggered tsunami (tidal wave) off the northern coast of Papua New Guinea killed at least 1,500 people and left thousands more injured and homeless.

In July 1999 Prime Minister Bill Skate resigned after he recognized Taiwan as a separate political entity from mainland China. Mekere Morauta became prime minister on July 1999.

Papua New Guinea is referred to as a sociolinguistic tiger due to her diversity in the Pacific. The country is bordered on the north by the Bismark Sea; on the east by the Solomon Sea; on south the Coral Sea; the Gulf of Papua; and the Torres Strait; and on the west by the Indonesian province of Irian Jaya. Its other nearest neighbours are the Solomon Islands, Australia, and Vanuatu to the south, Micronesia to the east; and Malaysia; Singapore; and the Philippines to the north.

The country is a wild, rugged region, with limited communications. It is divided into 20 administrative provinces. Agriculture accounted for one third of the gross domestic product in the early 1990s. The rain forests of Papua New Guinea are filled with tropical timber, and by the early 1990s rapacious logging by foreign companies was threatening the forest environment. The native population is Melanesian. Although some 700 different languages are spoken in the region, pidgin has become the lingua franca. The Univ. of Papua New Guinea opened in 1966. Sweet potatoes constitute the main food crop. Agricultural exports (notably coconut products, rubber, coffee, cocoa, and tea) are increasing. Timber is also exported, and silver, copper, and gold are mined. Pearl-shell and tortoise fisheries dot the coast. Oil production began in 1992. The nation has a parliamentary government with a governor general, representing the British crown; a prime minister and cabinet; and a unicameral, popularly elected parliament.

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