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Papua New Guinea - People

PNG has a population of approximately 7.3 million and has over 800 known languages reflecting the diverse origins of the people. English, Tok Pisin (Pidgin), and Hiri Motu (the lingua franca of the Papuan region) are the official languages. The majority of the people are Melanesian, but some are Micronesian or Polynesian.

The spectrum of PNG society now ranges from traditional village-based life, dependent on subsistence and small cash-crop agriculture, to modern urban life in the main cities of Port Moresby (capital) Lae, Madang, Wewak, Goroka, Mt. Hagen, and Rabaul. Some 85 percent of the population directly derives their livelihood from farming and 15 percent of the population lives in urban areas.

Papua New Guineans, most of whom are Melanesians, vary widely in their physical, ethnic and cultural characteristics. Papua New Guinea is, in fact, the most heterogeneous country in the world. The centuries old heritage of Melanesian society maintains a strong influence over most of the population. Long before the concept of democracy was established in Europe, Papua New Guinea communities were reaching decisions by consensus and not by the dictates of the most powerful member of the village.

Understanding the demographic context of PNG provides insight into socio-cultural factors that will affect disaster management effectiveness and disaster vulnerabilities. It is important to reflect gender, ethnicity, culture, vulnerable groups, and economics in the planning and implementation of disaster preparedness, mitigation, and response activities to address gaps and risks.

PNG has 22 Provinces of which 15 are Maritime Provinces. PNG has a total population of 7.3 million (2013). The majority of the population lives in the Highlands region (39 percent). Approximately 26 percent live in the Momase region, 20 percent in the Southern region, and 15 percent live in the Islands region.

The population density in PNG is 10.6 people per square km. Urban population is estimated to be around 17 percent of the total population and increasing as more people move from rural areas into urban centers, in particular the capital Port Moresby.

Port Moresby is the countrys capital and main commercial, administrative and educational center. Port Moresby, located on the southern coast in what used to be the territory of Papua, is probably the most poorly located capital city in the world. It is situated in a sparsely populated area on the periphery of the country, cut off from the highlands, where most of the people live, and not connected by road to any other urban area in the country.

Port Moresby has the second largest sea port in the country after Lae and its main economic activities are in the service industry. The population of Port Moresby, according to the Commonwealth Yearbook 2013, was 307,000 in 2010. In terms of liveability, a survey by the Intelligence Unit of The Economist has rated the city of Port Moresby among the worlds ten least liveable cities with a rank of 139 out of 140 cities that were rated. Based on overall ratings from 100 (considered ideal) to 0 (intolerable) Port Moresbys overall score was 38.9. This figure is indicative of the citys increasing rural-urban migration, challenges associated with high levels of unemployment and provision of adequate and reliable essential services including policing.

Lae in Morobe Province is PNGs second largest city and the industrial hub with manufacturing, trading, agribusiness, and fisheries among its business activities. Many of the largest producers have their offices located in Lae because of the port facilities. The Gold-Newcrest mining project located three hours drive from Lae has driven the citys recent economic boom. However, the city experiences security problems similar to Port Moresby because of rural-urban migration. The population of Lae in 2010 was 96,000 according to the Commonwealth Yearbook 2013.

The population of urban cities is expected to double in the next two decades due to migration from rural provinces such as Chimbu, East Sepik, Manus, Oro and Gulf as people seek better services and income opportunities. To accommodate the growing urban population, PNGs Prime Minister Peter ONeill, announced a two-tier development strategic plan in August 2013. The first tier involves developing Port Moresby, Lae, Mt Hagen and Kokopo into the countrys biggest cities. This will be followed by the towns of Goroka, Madang and Wewak in the second tier. Port Moresby will remain as the commercial and administration centre and Lae the industrial hub. Mt Hagen is expected to become the agricultural city while Kokopo the tourism capital.

While PNG could be described as an egalitarian society because few of its many tribal cultures had hereditary chiefs, the society is basically patriarchal with men having higher status than women. Society is characterised by patrilineal and matrilineal systems where ownership rights are passed on from the male or female ancestor. Patrilineal societies account for 75 per cent of PNGs population. In Patrilineal societies, inheritance passes down the male lineage, and men are responsible for making decisions with regards to land and marriage. The wifes role is to raise children and learn about the husbands clan and rituals. In matrilineal societies that are mainly located in the New Guinea Islands region and Milne Bay, ownership rights pass down the female lineage. Women own land and are responsible for clan decisions and have relatively higher status compared to their counterparts in patrilineal societies.

The most common form of gender based violence is wife beating perpetrated by the intimate partner. PNG is a patriarchal society where domestic violence traditionally tends to be considered a private matter and the practice is still viewed as acceptable by many people. Violence has left victims with injury, psychological trauma, sexually transmitted infections, loss of productivity and income. Preference to educate boys rather than girls has also contributed to an increase of dependency on husbands as breadwinners.

Of particular concern is the disproportionate vulnerability of girls and women, who face increased risk of having their right to education, health and protection violated throughout their childhood. In the home, around 75 percent of women and children experience family violence, one of the highest rates in the world. Girls drop out of school due to the high cost of school fees, harassment by boys and teachers, sexual abuse or lack of psychosocial support. The culturally defined domestic expectations placed on girls (such as remaining at home to work in the garden or attend to household duties) remain a significant contributor to their low enrollment rate.

Melanesian refugees (from Indonesian Papua) were given residency status, which allowed them to reside, work, and have access to services, but they could not run for political office. Non-Melanesian refugees rights were more limited, including restrictions on employment, public education, and housing.

The government has signed two agreements with Australia on refugees. The first (2012) allows Australia to send asylum seekers to Manus Island for processing only. The second (2013) allows asylum seekers to resettle in the country. International organizations, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and civil society groups in the country raised questions about the constitutionality of the latter agreement. In 2014 UNHCR cited significant shortcomings in the legal framework for receiving and processing asylum seekers, including a lack of national capacity in processing, poor physical conditions, and detention practices harmful to the well-being of transferees. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Raad Al Hussein stated the arrangement was leading to a chain of human rights abuses.

A total of 1,104 asylum seekers arrived in Manus. The International Organization for Migration began voluntary repatriation of detainees in 2013. As of September it assisted 494 voluntary returns. The resettlement of recognized refugees in the country scheduled to begin by the end of 2014 was delayed because of concern expressed in community consultations about resettlement policy. Public reaction was characterized by fear and suspicion from both local communities and potential candidates for resettlement.

An estimated 19 percent of PNG's labor market is comprised of child workers - some of whom are subjected to forced labor or child prostitution. "Mosko Girls"-young girls employed in bars to provide companionship to male patrons and sell an alcoholic drink called mosko-are vulnerable to human trafficking, especially around major cities in PNG. NGO sources indicate that children in prostitution increased by 30 percent in 2013. Boys as young as 12 are exploited as "market taxis" in urban areas and required to carry extremely heavy loads for low pay; some may be victims of forced labor. Reports continue to allege that high-ranking public officials condone, are engaged in, or benefit from sex trafficking in PNG.

PNG - Language

The language situation in Papua New Guinea is one of the most complex in the world. There are over 850 indigenous languages spoken right across the country; there are pidgin/Creole languages spoken, as well as English. There are three official languages spoken in PNG, Melanesian Tok Pisin (pidgin), Hiri Motu and English. Tok Pisin is an English-based creole language that evolved from interaction between local tribes with early English speaking traders and whalers. It is the most widely used language. Hiri Motu is a simplified version of Motu. English is the language of business, government and education.

In 1988 the Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL) reported that there were 750 languages, in 1989, 869 languages, in 1992, 867 languages, in 1998, 854 languages. These numbers are probably inflated and may be closer to earlier figures, as a result of the difficulty linguists have of determining the status of a language, whether it is a dialect or a distinct language.

The overall ratio of languages to people is thus only about 1 to 5,000. If this ratio were repeated in the United States of America, there would be 50,000 languages spoken there. The ten largest indigenous languages belong to the large groups of the interior highlands; they have from 30,000 to 100,000 speakers, and between them they account for nearly one-third of the population. Perhaps 80 percent of the languages have fewer than 5,000 speakers, and as many as one-third have fewer than 500.

In PNG where the number of languages is high and the number of speakers low, there are many questions regarding PNGs multilingual situation and how it developed, questions also, regarding the future of these many languages and their communities. The terms language maintenance, language shift, language death language renewal, all refer to the health of languages and their environments.

A major change in education policy now includes Elementary schools where children are taught first in their vernacular language or Tok Pisin, and where the transition to English only education takes place over several grades. Teachers are now encouraging children to become competent speakers, readers and writers in their first language.

Language is bound up in culture, and culture is realized (built up and made real) by its members, through language. It follows that children born into a cultural group learn the ways of behaving, believing, of doing and being in the world, that all the other members of their social and cultural group also follow. And they learn this tremendous body of information through interaction, that is, largely through doing and talking with members of their social group, through everyday activities that are embedded in specific situations located in heir culture.

The Pacific area is one of the most linguistically complex regions in the world. This is true for two reasons. There is a large number of distinct and unrelated language families located in the area; and there are a very large number of languages spoken in this area. About one-quarter of the world's languages are spoken in the Pacific region, but they are spoken by less than one per cent of the world's population.

Altogether, then, about fifteen hundred languages are (or were) spoken in the Pacific area, by about five million people (1997). Compare these figures with a single language such as English, which has over 350 million native speakers, and another 1000 million people who speak it as a second language.

The languages of the Pacific area, excluding the Australian languages, belong to two quite distinct language types Austronesian and non-Austronesian (also known as Papuan). (The word 'Austronesian' comes from two Greek words meaning southern islands.) Many of the languages of this very large area are related, and belong to a single language family. This family is known as the Austronesian family of languages. This means that they all share certain similarities, in their grammar, vocabulary, morphology and phonology. The reason they share these similarities is that they all derive from a common ancestor language, called a 'protolanguage'. Linguists have named this ancestor language Proto-Austronesian. The Austronesian language family has about 1200 or more member languages, all of which are related to each other.

In the regions of Papua New Guinea and West Papua (Irian Jaya), the Austronesian languages are mostly located in coastal, near coastal and island areas. However, there are two points at which AN speakers have penetrated further inland. One is in the Madang area and the other is in the area inland from Yule Island, west of Port Moresby.

The AN speakers appear to have been seafarers, and therefore were more interested in coastal travel and contacts than the groups who lived further inland, and in the mountains. There are no Austronesian languages along the western part of the south coast of PNG, nor along the south coast of West Papua (Irian Jaya). Austronesian languages are also found further west, in Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines and Taiwan, for example. People who have studied the Austronesian languages believe that the Austronesian family had its origins in the west, somewhere around Taiwan or on the nearby Asian mainland. The speakers of that early Austronesian language, and the language descendants of that language moved eastwards, reaching and settling the New Guinea area about 5000 years ago. Some of the speakers then moved further east into the rest of the Pacific, reaching Fiji and western Polynesia about 3000 years ago.

The AN languages in PNG fall into two related, yet in many ways contrasting groups. Practically all the AN languages on the mainland of PNG fall into the first group, while most of the AN languages on the smaller islands around New Guinea belong to the second group. The ancestors of this second group are thought to have migrated from Indonesia to somewhere in the New Britain and New Ireland area, and may have radiated out from there. This sub-group of languages typically has a S-V-O sentence order, as in English, while the languages of the first group have a S-O-V sentence order. There are other differences which mark them out as different from each other, and from the Non-Austronesian Languages (NAN) languages that are spoken in the rest of the country.

The Non-Austronesian Languages (or NAN Languages, a.k.a. Papuan Languages) have been in the New Guinea area very much longer than the Austronesian languages. At least some of them may have entered the area as immigrant languages in the nottoo-distant past but still well before the AN language speakers arrived. Some NAN languages are assumed to have been in the New Guinea area for tens of thousands of years. From the time the languages were first studied, their distribution, classification and grouping, nature and possible origin have caused many linguistic headaches.

About 800 distinct languages are counted as Papuan, with uncounted dialects. Almost all of them are on the island of New Guinea itself, either PNG or West Papua (Irian Jaya). However, they spread from as far west as Timor, and as far East as New Britain, New Ireland and Bougainville, with a few appearing even as far away as the Solomon Islands chain.

Because of its great size compared to the other islands, it is on the mainland of New Guinea that the greatest number of NAN languages are found. It is estimated that between one-sixth and oneseventh of all of the languages of the world are concentrated on this tiny fraction of the surface of the earth, the greatest concentration of languages met with anywhere in the world. Nor do there seem to be more than superficial connections with any languages spoken outside PNG, such as Australia or Asia.

The NAN (Papuan) language situation has long been known as one of the most lexically diverse and complex areas in the world. Up until the 60s and 70s, linguists believed that the NAN languages were mostly unrelated to each other, and were simply hundreds of very different, complex languages with small numbers of speakers. Further, it was believed that these languages showed no links to each other or to any languages outside the area. Only a very few languages showed some resemblance to each other.

However, research over several decades has simplified the linguistic picture. It could be shown that a large number of languages were, in fact, interrelated. Furthermore, some of these interrelated languages had quite large speech communities, some of over 100,000 speakers

On the basis of ongoing research, linguists were able to establish that there were some distant relationships existing between even more groups of these languages across the area. As a result of such study, it was possible to suggest that there was in fact one very large phylum, called the Trans-New Guinea Phylum, which accounted for 493 languages, or 70% of all the languages in the NAN group. The total number of speakers of this phylum represented 82% of all speakers in the NAN group. There are four other large phyla and a number of minor phyla along with some isolated languages that make up the total languages included in the NAN languages of this area.

A pidgin is an auxiliary language which arises to fulfil certain restricted communication needs among people who have no common language. A pidgin is a language which is native to none of those who speak it, and which is reduced in structure and vocabulary when compared with the language or languages from which it has derived.

There are a number of theories covering the origin of the word 'pidgin'. Pidgin is a Chinese corruption of the English word business. A Chinese corruption of the Portuguese word for business: occupacao Derived from the Hebrew word for trade or exchange: pidjom Derived from a South Seas pronunciation of the English word beach since trading often took place on the beach: beachee. Or derived from a South American language: the word for Indian: pidian.

The sounds that are used are those which are common to all, or most, of the languages involved in the contact situation. In the case of Melanesian Pidgin, some of the difficult sounds of English were replaced by the simple 's', e.g. six = sikis, shoe = su, church = sios etc. The grammar system is simplified. Many prefixes and suffixes are left off. Tenses are very simple. A very small vocabulary is needed because the language is used only in a limited set of social situations such as trading, plantation work etc. Fine distinctions in meaning are not needed in the kind of communication situations that the pidgin is used for.

The next stage in the development of a pidgin occurs when the language becomes the mother tongue of a speech community. When this takes place, the language is termed a 'Creole'. Even before Independence, and increasingly after Independence, people from all parts of PNG moved to other areas for employment or education, or other reasons. This movement of numbers of people increased the chances of couples from different language groups, who did not speak each other's first language, marrying and establishing a family unit. Since neither person could speak the other's language, the sensible solution to this 'mutual unintelligibility' was to use Tok Pisin in everyday interaction.

The extent of this multilingualism varied. Where language groups were large, as in the highlands, only those in the border areas tended to be multilingual. Where groups were small, everyone was effectively in a border area and knowledge of multiple languages was universal. In the lowland village of Gapun, studied by Don Kulick, the average number of languages understood by men over 40 was five: the vernacular, a lingua franca, and three or so of the other local languages.

In PNG, particularly in the highlands, what is found is not distinct languages but long chains of interrelated dialects and languages with no clear internal boundaries. This suggests that to translate such 'languages' someone must impose artificial boundaries between them. This being the case, the risk of disrupting the language ecology and language connections between groups is very real. This disruption may lead to language shift (a change in the way language is used, and in the words and grammar of the language), or even language death, the eventual distinction of a language as it is replaced by a more dominant language.

A naively economistic perspective on human behavior is clearly wrong, because it ignores the cultural value of a language to its users. Much of the struggle for success in human social life has been, and remains, about achieving good standing in a close-knit local community. Many forms of human behavior, from gift-giving to gossiping to joining religious or secular associations, aim at precisely this. Such activities have often been portrayed by economists as quaint or irrational leftovers from some primitive mentality, as when development theorists berate tribesmen for blowing all their hard-won surpluses on huge feasts. However, such activities only appear irrational if the economic perspective adopted is unrealistically narrow. Using the form of speech of a locality is a way of tapping into the social network of that area. It shows that one belongs, that one is committed, and it engenders solidarity with others.

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Page last modified: 20-12-2016 19:41:21 ZULU