Papua New Guinea may well be the most linguistically and culturally diverse nation in the world. It is also one of the least explored, partly because of the rugged terrain with its steep mountain valleys and consequent difficulties in travelling about. About 80 per cent of the population lives in rural areas in traditional societies, having little contact with each other, let alone the outside world. As a result, there are over 700 indigenous languages and myriads of different cultures.
Papua New Guinea occupies the eastern half New Guinea island; the Indonesian province of West Papua (Irian Jaya) is to its west. Papua new Guinea is located to the north of Australia, and encompasses many outlying islands. The nations capital is Port Moresby and has a total area of 462,840 sq km. As of 2015, the population was 6.5 million people.
Melanesian villages are full of ancient customs and rituals unchanged for centuries. Many still live a subsistence-based lifestyle – hunting, fishing and growing crops of taro and cassava while living in homes made of materials from the forest. There are coming-of-age ceremonies that involve painful body scarring and others that involve nothing more than fancy hairdressing. Christian missionaries have tried to eradicate the animistic religions of remote tribes; but many traditional beliefs still hold sway.
In recent decades, wealth from mining and logging has caused social divisions and violence. Unfortunately, law and order remains poor or very poor in many parts of the country. There has also been criticism of Papua New Guinea’s human rights record, with reports of refugees in the country being the targets of xenophobic attacks, along with police brutality. Papua New Guinea has strong ties with its southern neighbour, Australia, which administered the territory until independence in 1975. Australia’s substantial aid program aims to relieve poverty and to boost development.
In 2013 there were 168,000 international tourism arrivals to Papua New Guinea. Small-scale village tourism offers a more environmentally and socially friendly way to earn income for the essentials of modern life, such as outboard engines and fees for the local school. Among scuba divers, Papua New Guinea is famed for its marine biodiversity and many claim that its seas have the best diving in the world. There are many active volcanoes on the island, such as Mount Tavurvur, which erupted in 2014.
On the tallest snow-capped island on the planet, life is as varied as the landscape: from the cool, wet highland interior where birds of paradise display their plumes, down to the rainforest-clad banks of the mighty Sepik River, full of crocodiles, to low coral-fringed islands. Many undiscovered species of plants and animals are thought to exist in the interior.
Ethical Travel Issues and advice
Ethical Photography: Travelling presents an opportunity to photograph in lots of different destinations and situations, but sometimes there may be culturally sensitive issues to think about before reaching for the camera or other photo-taking device. There are lots of people in the world who do not have clean water, electricity, schooling or enough to eat, let alone access to mobile telephones, the internet and printed media, so they have no idea where their photograph may end up or how it could be used. Sadly, in this day and age, child prostitution, child trafficking and other crimes against children are facilitated via the Internet, and photography can play an unwitting and innocent role. Photography and its use is no longer straight forward, so perhaps it is time to stop and think a little about the ethics of photography.
Taking photos of friendly local people is a highlight for many travellers and photographers. Smiles are universal ways to engage, as is showing people the photo you just took of them. If you show an interest in their work or ask them questions, they’ll be happy to have their picture taken. In some touristy places it has become common for people to ask for money for their photos to be taken. Do as you wish, but a photo of someone you shared a laugh with may have a better lasting impression than one you paid for. Don’t forget the same holds true for any porters and guides that may help you along the way. Take an interest in them and you’ll be rewarded with more great photo opportunities.