Culture & People in Papua New Guinea
The people are mostly descendants of the Papuans – Melanesians who are closely related to the islanders of Fiji, New Caledonia and Vanuatu. Today there are 5,130,560, people living in Papua New Guinea – more than a third of them in the rugged Highlands. Papua New Guinea's culture is extremely diverse and, within each region, visitors will experience a rich variety of traditional customs.
The traditional Melanesian cultures – more than 200 have been identified – are kept alive in elaborate rituals involving deaths, feasts, marriages, compensation ceremonies and initiation rites. Visitors to country areas, especially in the highlands, will often find local variations in village construction, dialect and dress.
The Highlands has more than 60 separate languages, cultures and traditions. The colorful Huli Wigman and the Asaro Mudmen can be seen in traditional bilas (costume) during cultural shows, where local Sing Sings and exhibitions of dances are accompanied by the beat of ‘kundu’ drums. The Goroka and Mount Hagen Cultural Shows are so popular that accommodation bookings have to be made a year in advance.
Port Moresby, the gateway to Papua New Guinea, is known for the exciting Hiri Moale Festival. This recreates the epic voyages undertaken by the Motuans of Papua, who traded clay pots for sago with the Gulf people. This unique barter system ensured the survival of Motuans and, in return, provided the Gulf people with clay pots for domestic use. Another fascinating cultural event is the Yam Harvest Festival by the Trobriand Islanders of the Milne Bay Province. The festival highlights the workmanship of the people who use traditional methods of planting and harvesting yams.
In East New Britain, the famous Baining fire dancers walk over blazing flames in a ritual show of thanksgiving to the gods, while in New Ireland, the ancient ritual of shark calling is still practiced by local villages along the Buluminski Highway. Cultural events such as the Kontu Shark Calling Festival and Malangan Festival offer a unique opportunity for visitors to witness ancient traditional rites.