A Brief History of PNG

The history of Papua New Guinea is fascinating; however, since much of it is based upon oral tradition, there are very few details of life in this country before explorers and adventurers from the West first crossed onto its shores. Here is a brief synopsis of PNG's development of a nation,which, in the modern sense, has been a wildly dramatic journey in only the last 80+ years)!

Taim Bipo Bipo Tru (a long long time ago): The first people arrive on canoes and rafts, probably from Asia. Gradually some move to the Highlands.

Taim Bipo (a long time ago): Some traders bring over pigs which become like money in the Highlands. They are used for ceremonies, bride prices, etc. PIGS=WEALTH. Kaukau (sweet potato) is brought in later and becomes the main food source for the Highlands.

1526: Jorge de Menesos sails by the south coast of PNG on his way to Portugal. He notices the people’s frizzy hair and gives them the name “Papuans” which means “frizzy hair.” (To find out where the name Guinea came from, see my post!)

1600’s: People on the islands and coastal regions discover Dutch explorers. They are amazed by the strange sight of people with white skin in odd canoes carrying wonderful stuff. They try to explain it all through myths and legends.

1800’s: People notice that the “white skins” begin to stay – colonists who make them work on plantations and missionaries who give them the Gospel of Jesus. Some people fight with the “white skins” and some are friendly. Some are kidnapped by slave traders.

1884: People in the North are told that they live in New Guinea and that they belong to Germany. People in the South are told that they live in Papua and they belong to Great Britain.

1906: People in Papua (the South) are told that their new masters are the Australians.

1914: People in New Guinea (the North) are told that they belong to Australia too, because Germany started a war somewhere.

1920’s and 30’s: People in the Highlands discover white skins for the first time. They are scared and confused and many think that their dead ancestors have turned white and have come back to them. They soon realize that they are only human.

1942–1945: Japanese invade and take over much of the North coast and try to take Port Moresby (the capital in the South). People hide in the bush and caves as their villages and gardens are destroyed. Many people die. Many people become involved in the war as soldiers, carriers and laborers for Australian forces. They are remembered as heroes for their bravery and are nicknamed “Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels”.

1950: Australia forms Local Governments so the people are ruled by their own leaders again (sort of).

1961: Papuans and New Guineans are allowed to vote in a national election for the first time.

1973: Australia allows Papuans and New Guineans to govern themselves in national government (with Australia’s help). (What is their government like? See my post for more discussion.)

1975: Papuans and New Guineans take down the Australian flag and put up their own new flag and peacefully become the independent nation of Papua New Guinea. (See this post for more fascinating tidbits about the flag.)
1989-97: A nine-year secessionist revolt on the island of Bougainville ended in 1997 after claiming some 20,000 lives.