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Papua New Guinea - Introduction

Recent information from PNG suggests that open cannibalism has almost entirely ceased in many parts of PNG. Pre-colonial practices of cannibalism and head hunting that created tensions among tribal groups were not uncommon. Communities of the Purari in the New Guinea Coast, Avatip of the Sepik and parts of the Solomon Islands were noted for such practices, which had strong ritual connection and were considered part of warfare. It is suggested they provided warriors with not just bravery, but strength and rejuvenation or spiritual rebirth. These Melanesian practices were in many ways intended to be used as a form of punishment although in some cases human flesh was eaten as a culinary treat and markets supplied such needs.

Some communities in the Upper Fly River practiced cannibalism as well as head-hunting while communities in the southern coast were head hunters. Communities in the interior are reported to have hunted each other without discrimination until pressure from missionaries, Dutch and Australian colonial administrations worked to stamp out the practice in the 1950s.

Papua New Guinea (PNG) lies on the eastern half of the island of New Guinea located between the Coral Sea and the South Pacific Ocean among the islands of Oceania and is 160 kilometers (100 miles) north of Australia. Due to the countrys position in the Pacific ring of fire, the country is vulnerable to seismic-related activity. The country is prone to natural disasters including earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, tsunamis, cyclones, river flooding, coastal erosion, landslides, droughts and frost.

PNG is under enormous threat from the impact of global warming and the effects of changing climatic patterns. The economy remains dominated by the agricultural, forestry and fishing sector. This employs most of the labor force. The mineral and energy extraction sector accounts for the majority of export earnings and Gross Domestic Product. Over the last decade, PNG has experienced economic growth, with expanding employment and an increase in government spending. However, despite this favorable environment, PNG still faces considerable development challenges.

Papua New Guinea has a population of about 6.6 million, and has struggled with tribal violence and poverty despite a wealth of natural resources. Papua New Guinea is linguistically the most complex nation of the world. Over 800 languages are spoken in this Pacific country. Since gaining independence in 1976, PNG has struggled politically. While endowed with a wealth of natural resources, the country struggles to provide basic education, health, and infrastructure services. Intense disputes between politicians often gridlocks Parliament while inadequate resources, understaffing, and corruption erode services provided by lower government.

After four decades of independence, PNG still faces major challenges. HIV/AIDS is growing towards southern African proportions, fuelled in part by extraordinary levels of violence against females. Serious law and order problems hinder inward investment. An under performing public service and corruption also slows development. Logging takes its toll on the diminishing rainforest. Education and health services remain weak and are difficult for many to access due to poor road communications. Such access difficulties also hamper development of rural economies.

National politics are characterised by a plethora of political parties, coalition governments, shifting party loyalties and motions of no-confidence in the leadership (many of which have succeeded). There is considerable instability to political proceedings in PNG. Under present conditions, elected governments are guaranteed a period of grace 18 months after election before they can be subject to confidence votes. This also applies to the last 12 months prior to a general election, which are held every five years.

There is a moderate amount of civil unrest due to the lack of control by the government and individual economic woes. There have been demonstrations regarding government entitlements/pensions and landowner disputes regarding payments associated with natural resource projects. Tribal warfare occasionally resembles indigenous terrorism, but it is usually carried out on an individual-to-individual scale. Tribes often battle each other with traditional and conventional weapons over land, water, livestock, and marriages. One act of violence often draws a retribution attack.

The indigenous population of Papua New Guinea is one of the most heterogeneous in the world. Papua New Guinea has several thousand separate communities, most with only a few hundred people. Divided by language, customs, and tradition, some of these communities have engaged in low-scale tribal conflict with their neighbors for millennia. The advent of modern weapons and modern migration into urban areas has greatly magnified the impact of this lawlessness.

The isolation created by the mountainous terrain is so great that some groups, until recently, were unaware of the existence of neighboring groups only a few kilometers away. The diversity, reflected in a folk saying, "For each village, a different culture," is perhaps best shown in the local languages. Spoken mainly on the island of New Guinea--composed of Papua New Guinea and the Indonesian province of West Papua--over 850 of these languages have been identified; of these, only 350-450 are related. The remainder seem to be totally unrelated either to each other or to the other major groupings. Most native languages are spoken by a few hundred to a few thousand, although Enga, used in part of the highlands, is spoken by some 130,000 people. However, the Enga people are subdivided into clans that regularly conflict with each other. Many native languages are extremely complex grammatically.

Clan rivalries and a serious lack of resources diminished police effectiveness and hampered internal security activities throughout the country. Societal violence, particularly among tribes, was commonplace, and in many cases police lacked sufficient personnel or resources to prevent attacks or respond effectively to them. Warring tribal factions in rural areas often were better armed than local police, and authorities often tolerated intertribal violence in isolated rural areas until the tribes themselves agreed to a negotiated settlement.

Motor vehicle accidents are a common cause of serious injury. Accidents involve vehicles traveling on the wrong side of the road in an attempt to avoid potholes. After an accident, crowds can form quickly and may attack those whom they hold responsible by stoning and/or burning vehicles. Friends and relatives of an injured person may demand immediate compensation from the party they hold responsible for injuries, regardless of legal responsibility.

The crime rate in Papua New Guinea is considered among the highest in the world. Carjackings, armed robberies, and stoning of vehicles are problems in/around major cities but can also occur elsewhere. The high rate of crime, to include those committed by the infamous Raskol gangs, can be opportunistic in nature. Sophisticated criminal enterprises do exist, and their capabilities often exceed that of local enforcement authorities. Corruption of public servants is still a recurring theme. Education certificate fraud is common, so a private company may face challenges verifying an applicants previous employment, education, etc.

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Page last modified: 06-01-2020 17:28:10 ZULU