The Independent State of Papua New Guinea (Independen Stet bilong Papua Niugini in Tok Pisin) is an Oceanian country that occupies the eastern half of the island of New Guinea and its offshore islands in Melanesia, a region of the southwestern Pacific Ocean north of Australia. Its capital, located along its southeastern coast, is Port Moresby. The western half of New Guinea forms the Indonesian provinces of Papua and West Papua. At 178,704 square miles (462,840 km²), Papua New Guinea is the world’s fifty-fourth largest country. Including all its islands, it lies between latitudes 0° and 12°S, and longitudes 140° and 160°E. Other major islands within Papua New Guinea include New Ireland, New Britain, Manus, and Bougainville.
The country’s geography is diverse and, in places, extremely rugged. A spine of mountains, the New Guinea Highlands, runs the length of the island of New Guinea, forming a populous highlands region mostly covered with tropical rainforest, and the long Papuan Peninsula, known as the ‘Bird’s Tail’. Dense rainforests can be found in the lowland and coastal areas as well as very large wetland areas surrounding the Sepik and Fly rivers. This terrain has made it difficult for the country to develop transportation infrastructure. Some areas are accessible only on foot or by airplane. The highest peak is Mount Wilhelm at 14,793 feet (4,509 meters). Papua New Guinea is surrounded by coral reefs which are under close watch, in the interests of preservation.
The country is situated on the Pacific Ring of Fire, at the point of collision of several tectonic plates. There are a number of active volcanoes, and eruptions are frequent. Earthquakes are relatively common, sometimes accompanied by tsunamis. Papua New Guinea is one of the few regions close to the equator that experience snowfall, which occurs in the most elevated parts of the mainland.
Papua New Guinea is one of the most culturally diverse countries in the world. There are 852 known languages in the country, of which 12 have no known living speakers. Most of the population of more than seven million people live in customary communities, which are as diverse as the languages. It is also one of the most rural, as only 18 percent of its people live in urban centers. The country is one of the world’s least explored, culturally and geographically. It is known to have numerous groups of uncontacted peoples, and researchers believe there are many undiscovered species of plants and animals in the interior.
Papua New Guinea is classified as a developing economy by the International Monetary Fund. Strong growth in Papua New Guinea’s mining and resource sector led to the country becoming the sixth fastest-growing economy in the world in 2011. Growth was expected to slow once major resource projects came on line in 2015. Mining remains a major economic factor, however. Local and national governments are discussing the potential of resuming mining operations in Panguna mine in Bougainville Province, which has been closed since the civil war in the 1980s and 1990s. Nearly 40 percent of the population lives a self-sustainable natural lifestyle with no access to global capital.
Most of the people still live in strong traditional social groups based on farming. Their social lives combine traditional religion with modern practices, including primary education. These societies and clans are explicitly acknowledged by the Papua New Guinea Constitution, which expresses the wish for “traditional villages and communities to remain as viable units of Papua New Guinean society” and protects their continuing importance to local and national community life.
At the national level, after being ruled by three external powers since 1884, Papua New Guinea established its sovereignty in 1975. This followed nearly 60 years of Australian administration, which started during World War I. It became an independent Commonwealth realm in 1975 with Queen Elizabeth II as its head of state and became a member of the Commonwealth of Nations in its own right.
Archaeological evidence indicates that humans first arrived in Papua New Guinea around 42,000 to 45,000 years ago. They were descendants of migrants out of Africa, in one of the early waves of human migration.
Agriculture was independently developed in the New Guinea highlands around 7000 BC, making it one of the few areas in the world where people independently domesticated plants. A major migration of Austronesian-speaking peoples to coastal regions of New Guinea took place around 500 BC. This has been correlated with the introduction of pottery, pigs, and certain fishing techniques.
In the eighteenth century, traders brought the sweet potato to New Guinea, where it was adopted and became part of the staples. Portuguese traders had obtained it from South America and introduced it to the Moluccas. The far higher crop yields from sweet potato gardens radically transformed traditional agriculture and societies. Sweet potato largely supplanted the previous staple, taro, and resulted in a significant increase in population in the highlands.
Although by the late twentieth century headhunting and cannibalism had been practically eradicated, in the past they were practiced in many parts of the country as part of rituals related to warfare and taking in enemy spirits or powers. In 1901, on Goaribari Island in the Gulf of Papua, missionary Harry Dauncey found 10,000 skulls in the island’s Long Houses, a demonstration of past practices. According to writer Marianna Torgovnick, “The most fully documented instances of cannibalism as a social institution come from New Guinea, where head-hunting and ritual cannibalism survived, in certain isolated areas, into the Fifties, Sixties, and Seventies, and still leave traces within certain social groups.”
Little was known in Europe about the island until the nineteenth century, although Portuguese and Spanish explorers, such as Dom Jorge de Meneses and Yñigo Ortiz de Retez, had encountered it as early as the sixteenth century. Traders from Southeast Asia had visited New Guinea beginning 5,000 years ago to collect bird of paradise plumes.
The country’s dual name results from its complex administrative history before independence. The word papua is derived from an old local term of uncertain origin. “New Guinea” (Nueva Guinea) was the name coined by the Spanish explorer Yñigo Ortiz de Retez. In 1545, he noted the resemblance of the people to those he had earlier seen along the Guinea coast of Africa. Guinea, in its turn, is etymologically derived from Portuguese word Guiné.
In the nineteenth century, Germany ruled the northern half of the country for some decades, beginning in 1884, as a colony named German New Guinea. In 1914, after the outbreak of the Great War, Australian forces landed and captured German New Guinea in a small military campaign. Australia maintained occupation of the territory with its forces through the war. After the war, in which Germany and the Central Powers were defeated, the League of Nations authorized Australia to administer this area as a Mandate territory.
The southern half of the island had been colonized in 1884 by the United Kingdom as British New Guinea. With the Papua Act 1905, the UK transferred this territory to the newly formed Commonwealth of Australia, which took on its administration. Additionally, from 1905, British New Guinea was renamed as the Territory of Papua. In contrast to establishing an Australian mandate in former German New Guinea, the League of Nations determined that Papua was an External Territory of the Australian Commonwealth; as a matter of law it remained a British possession. The difference in legal status meant that until 1949, Papua and New Guinea had entirely separate administrations, both controlled by Australia. These conditions contributed to the complexity of organizing the country’s post-independence legal system.
During World War II, the New Guinea campaign (1942–1945) was one of the major military campaigns and conflicts between Japan and the Allies. Approximately 216,000 Japanese, Australian, and US servicemen died. After World War II and the victory of the Allies, the two territories were combined into the Territory of Papua and New Guinea. This was later referred to as “Papua New Guinea”.
The natives of Papua appealed to the United Nations for oversight and independence. The nation established independence from Australia on September 16, 1975, becoming a Commonwealth Realm, continuing to share Elizabeth II as its head of state. It maintains close ties with Australia, which continues as the largest aid donor to Papua New Guinea. Papua New Guinea was admitted to membership in the United Nations on October 10, 1975.
A secessionist revolt in 1975–76 on Bougainville Island resulted in an eleventh-hour modification of the draft Constitution of Papua New Guinea to allow for Bougainville and the other eighteen districts to have quasi-federal status as provinces. A renewed uprising on Bougainville Island started in 1988 and claimed 20,000 lives until it was resolved in 1997. Bougainville had been the chief mining region of the country, generating 40% of the national budget. The native peoples felt they were bearing the adverse environmental effects of the mining, which poisoned the land, water and air, without gaining a fair share of the profits.
The government and rebels negotiated a peace agreement that established the Bougainville Autonomous District and Province. The autonomous Bougainville elected Joseph Kabui as president in 2005, who served until 2008. He was succeeded by his deputy John Tabinaman. James Tanis won the election of December 2008. As part of the current peace settlement, a referendum on independence is planned to be held in Bougainville sometime before mid-2020. Preparations were underway in 2015.
Numerous Chinese have worked and lived in Papua New Guinea, establishing Chinese-majority communities. Chinese merchants became established in the islands before European exploration. Anti-Chinese rioting involving tens of thousands of people broke out in May 2009. The initial spark was a fight between ethnic Chinese and Papua New Guinean workers at a nickel factory under construction by a Chinese company. Native resentment against Chinese ownership of numerous small businesses and their commercial monopoly in the islands led to the rioting. The Chinese have long been merchants in Papua New Guinea.
Transport in Papua New Guinea is heavily limited by the country’s mountainous terrain. As a result, air travel is the single most important form of transport for human and high density/value freight. Airplanes made it possible to open up the country during its early colonial period. Even today, the two largest cities — Port Moresby and Lae — are only directly connected by planes. Port Moresby is not linked by road to any of the other major towns, and many remote villages can only be reached by light aircraft or on foot.
Jacksons International Airport is the major international airport in Papua New Guinea, located 5 miles (8 kilometers) from Port Moresby. In addition to two international airfields, Papua New Guinea has 578 airstrips, most of which are unpaved. Assets are not maintained to good operating standards and poor transport remains a major impediment to the development of ties of national unity.
The postal history of Papua New Guinea is quite complicated with different administrations controlling the area at different times. The north was generally known as New Guinea while the south was Papua. Britain controlled the southeast portion of the island of New Guinea starting in late 1884. The colony was administrated from Queensland, whose postage stamps figuring Queen Victoria were in use in British New Guinea between 1885 and 1901. The colonial datestamps bore the “B.N.G.” abbreviation.
In German New Guinea, in the Bismarck Archipelago and the North Solomon Islands, the first German post offices opened in 1888 and used some stamps of the German Reich, issued between 1875 and 1887 (denomination in an oval or imperial eagle series). On the mail, they were cancelled with a round datestamp bearing the name of the town in the upper part and a five arm star in the lower. DEUTSCH- / NEU-GUINEA appeared in the middle of postmarks some years after, and there can be two or three stars.
In 1897 and 1898, six stamps of Germany were overprinted with the name of the colony, printed in diagonal on two lines. In 1901, the first stamps were issued with the name of the German colony printed on them, picturing the imperial yacht Hohenzollern. On July 1, 1901, a stamp series was issued inscribed BRITISH NEW GUINEA, printed in intaglio by De La Rue in London. In the center of them, was engraved a photograph taken by Captain Barton, Secretary of the Lieutenant-General. It pictured a lakatoi, a local ship, in front of Hanuabada village, near Port Moresby.
In 1902, the Commonwealth of Australia received the responsibility to administrate British New Guinea. It was defined in the 1906 Papua Act, including a change of name to become the Territory of Papua. The remaining stock of lakatoi stamps were overprinted PAPUA and issued in 1906 for the stamps treated in Port Moresby and in May 1907 for those sent to Brisbane. The search for philatelic income was the motivation for this overprint, more than the political update.
In November 1907, the lakatoi design was used on stamps inscribed with the PAPUA name, in typography by the same printer than the stamps of Australia, in Melbourne. The design was kept until 1932, with only modifications of colors and values when postal rates were changed in 1912, 1921 and 1924. The sole change that was ill-welcomed by the public was the monocolor issue of 1911. The bicolor design was reused in 1915 and the monocolor stocks were overprint with a one penny value mainly sold to collectors.
In September 1914, at the beginning of World War I in Europe, Australian troops invaded German New Guinea. In October and December 1914, the remaining stocks of German colonial stamps were overprinted with two inscriptions. On the upper line, G.R.I. for Georgius Rex Imperator in honor of George V, King of the United Kingdom and Emperor of India. The second line is a new denomination expressed in the Australian pound subdivisions: pence (“d.“) and shilling (“s.“).
A stock of the German Marshall Islands stamps was retrieved in Nauru, while the German postal authorities were ordered to destroy it. It was sent to New Guinea, where it was overprinted in the same fashion as German New Guinea stamps and sold starting December 1914.
From January 1915 until 1925, Nauru and New Guinea used stamps of Australia in the kangaroo and map series as well as George V definitives overprinted NORTH WEST PACIFIC ISLANDS.
On January 23, 1925, the Australian administration in the League of Nations mandate of the Territory of New Guinea issued the first stamp series for this entity, representing an indigenous village formed by hutts.
In 1929, the first flights transporting some mail took place between Port Moresby and Australia, and to other isolated places in the colony, like the police station in Oroville on the Fly River. Three lakatoi stamps of Papua were overprinted AIR MAIL or with a plane for this kind of mail. In June 1931, with the first transportation of mail by plane by the New Guinea authorities, a part of the hutt stamps was overprinted with a plane and AIR MAIL.
New Guinea and Papua continued issuing their own stamps throughout the 1930s. At the beginning of the Pacific War, the Japanese occupation of Western New Guinea on the West and of the Territory of New Guinea on the North forced the suspension of civil administration in Papua on February 12, 1942. Even if the Australian Army’s postal service used stamps of Papua at first, it quickly returned to stamps of Australia. The suppression of civil postal service rendered useless the reprints of 1932 stamps and of a 1 shilling 6 pence airmail stamp issued in January 1941 to follow the rate for a letter to the United Kingdom. On the philatelic market some New Guinea stamps are known with a forged overprint imitating the Japanese overprint on occupied Dutch East Indies stamps.
At the end of World War II in 1945, stamps of Australia were used in New Guinea and in Papua until March 1, 1953. On October 30, 1952, the new combined territory received its first new stamp series figuring local topics and bearing the name “Territory of Papua and New Guinea“.
Aside from local culture, economic activities, fauna and flora, the topics on stamps included the signs of political autonomy progressively given to the territory: a Legislative Council in 1961, the territory participation to political and sport events of Oceania and of the Commonwealth of Nations. Starting in the 1960s, European printers like Courvoisier and Enschedé competed with the official printing plant of Australia.
On January 26, 1972, stamps portraying the new flag and coat of arms of the territory were issued inscribed PAPUA NEW GUINEA. Four stamps marking the fifth South Pacific Games in Guam were the last before independence on September 21, 1975.
Scott #446 is a 5-toea stamp depicting a masked dancer of East Sepik Province. It was released on March 29, 1978, as part of a 12-stamp series depicting natives of Papua New Guinea released between 1977 and 1978. Perforated 11½ and measuring 25×30 millimeters, the stamp was printed by the photogravure method.
East Sepik is situated in the northwest of Papua New Guinea. It has an estimated population of 433,481 people (2010 census) It is 16,767 square miles (43,426 km²) in size. Wewak, the provincial capital, is located on the coast of East Sepik. There are a scattering of islands off shore, and coastal ranges dominate the landscape just inland of the coast. The remainder of the province’s geography is dominated by the Sepik River, which is one of the largest rivers in the world in terms of water flow and is known for flooding — the river’s level can alter by as much as five meters in the course of the year as it rises and falls. The southern areas of the province are taken up by the Hunstein Range and other mountain ranges which form the central cordillera and feed the Sepik River.
Recent research by the National Museum and drilling by oil companies indicates that during the Ice Ages the Sepik-Ramu River Basin was an inland saltwater sea. With the ongoing tectonic uplift of the island and the erosion of the highlands, the basin filled in and the people living there made the shift from a saltwater to a freshwater culture. During the yearly wet season, the Sepik River and the Ramu River floodplains join together in the old sea basin.
There are mask-making villages all along the Sepik, but the middle river is the most densely populated with over 25 large villages of the Iatmul language group people between Moim and Pagwi. Tambanum is the largest, others include Timbunke, Angriman, Mindinbit, Kamanimbit, Kanganaman, Palimbei, Yentchan, Korogo and Kandingai.
The river villagers keep small gardens and the women fish. They trade fish to the inland Sawos people for sago flour, the starchy pith of the sago palm, which is the main staple of the Sepik diet. There is a small cash economy along the Sepik and the people sell fish, as well as carvings for cash. The middle Sepiks have a common ancestry, but each village is independent and this is reflected in their art, including their masks. Every village carves in a distinctive style.
The men carve masks from soft woods, although some types are made of clay over-modeled onto turtle or coconut shell. They mix paints from earth pigments and charcoal. The masks are decorated with shells, pig tusks, and cassowary feathers.
Few masks are worn directly over the face, which explains the lack of holes for eyes. Some are fastened onto a large cone-shaped wicker framework for a dance costume called a tumbuan. Raffia is knotted into the bottom hoop for skirting and flowers, fruit and leaves added on for color and power at the time of the ceremony. Some masks were made to “decorate” sacred flutes, the front of canoes, the HausMan, as lucky amulets and even yams Other masks are made only for display, most often in the men’s Haus, to attract powerful and useful spirits.
In Papua New Guinea, it is only men who wear masks and they must have been initiated into the cult that produces the mask. Masks are hidden from women when not in use and are secret. When worn the initiate becomes the spirit / tumbuwan the mask represents.
The individual elements of the masks are complex. They often refer directly or indirectly to ancestor or clan spirits and totems such as pig, cassowary (muruk), crocodile (pukpuk), eagle (taragau), or a water and bush bird (saun). There are many different types of masks for different purposes.
If a village or clan has a lot of bad luck, such as many deaths, the whole group may change their names and buy the rights to use masks from another clan in different village in an attempt to fool the bad spirits or sorcerers. The resulting masks usually display characteristics of both groups.
Masks may be disposed of when they no longer seem to have power. Although many Sepiks are nominally Christian, masks may also be sold or destroyed when Christianity becomes stronger in a village or clan.
A savi mask is about power, including the power to counter black magic. All savi have their tongues stuck out as a sign of aggression towards enemies of their clan. In the men’s ceremonial Haus Tambarans, the orator’s stools are savis and also many of the gable masks, as savis are at the top of the power structure. Savis do not need to be danced to bring power, just gathering them is enough. Only certain powerful men may lower the savi tumbuans from their storage position in the Haus Tambanum.
Mai (or mwai) masks, represented as pairs of mythical brothers and sisters, are the teachers in the young men’s initiation ceremonies. Mai masks represent the spirits of totemic names. Names are very sacred in Papua New Guinea. No one actually says anyone’s real name, including their own, for fear of drawing the attention of bad spirits or sorcerers. During initiations, the elder who wears the mai mask becomes a spirit teacher who may say the important totemic names without evoking personal risk. He tells and calls out names for use in magic, for healing and for other spiritual uses. These names number in the thousands and only powerful men have this knowledge.
A sevi mask represents beings who are at a lower level than the savis, more on the level of the Christian saints. Often the “tongue” is the owner or carver’s clan totem. A tumbuna mask represents an actual, often recent, ancestor. Turtle masks represents hunting spirits. A man wants a lot of them around before he goes hunting. The hunter spits red betel nut (buai) juice on them to increase his luck. He keeps them in the men’s Haus Boi or at his home depending on the village.