Papua New Guinea is one of the largest islands in the world, it has a land area of 785, 753 kilometers, and is second only to Greenland as the largest island on Earth. Papua New Guinea actually only occupies half of the whole island, the eastern side. The whole island itself is known as New Guinea, the eastern half is the Independent State of Papua New Guinea and the western half are the Indonesian provinces of Papua and West Papua. For the purpose of this article, we will refer to the whole place as Papua New Guinea, no matter if the area is in the western side or if the tribe in question inhabits the western or one of the islands that surround Papua New Guinea.
Observing tribal living is fast becoming a vacation activity and destination for some people. It is a way of hitting pause on our daily routine and one method of finding something new that would break the inescapable cycle we call our lives. Totally away from the hustle and bustle of city living, a change in venue and a fresh new routine is sometimes the ultimate vacation and holiday. Here are some things one should know if they are thinking of slumming it with the tribes of Papua New Guinea.
Papua New Guinea consists of a big island and a stretch of smaller islands surrounded by the following countries: Australia from the southwest side, New Zealand from the southeast side, the Philippines from the northwest side, and Hawaii to the far northeast side. Riddled with mountains and the highest one in Indonesia and Australia, Puncak Jaya is the most prominent land mass in the area. It is also considered the highest mountain peak in Oceania. Papua New Guinea has one of the largest mangrove forests in the world, wetlands, rainforests, and savanna grasslands as well. It’s a place lush with vegetation and wildlife, making tribal living easier.
The people who were believed to have lived on the island first were descended from the Southeast Asian countries and these first inhabitants landed here about 50,000 years ago. They tilled the land and hunted the forests and, archaeologists believe, used irrigation in their farming.
Indonesia kind of claimed the western part of the land during pre-colonial times before it came under Dutch rule. In the 16th century, Portuguese and Spanish ships landed in Papua New Guinea and claimed the island for Spain. In the 1880s, other European countries followed suit, calling parts of the island their own Guinea (Danish New Guinea, German New Guinea, and British New Guinea).
A major part of the Papua New Guinea culture is still tribal living. With that fact in mind, there are over 800 languages spoken in the country, and most of them are languages from the indigenous people or tribes scattered all over the islands. Culturally, we can say that the way of life in Papua New Guinea is still tribal living since only about eighteen percent of the population lives in urbanized areas. Languages or dialects vary from one village to the next. Hence, the abundance of presently used languages. Fortunately, the official languages are English, Pidgin, Tok Pisin, and Hiri Motu. You can make your way around a capital city and communicate with the locals using English.
Rainforests thrive in this particular weather. The temperate climate we are used to does not exist in Papua New Guinea. It is a place of simplicity, even when it comes to weather. The place only has two kinds of weather, hot and wet.
We either visit the island and experience sunny, warm weather or rainy, wet weather. Rain could go on for days, so be ready for it. Being such, Papua New Guinea is a widely agriculture-friendly place, with different crops growing and tilled by its people. The most common are banana, taro, sweet potato, sago, and rice. Temperatures could be at a high of 93 degrees Fahrenheit to a low of 73 degrees.
Lush with rainforests and abundant vegetation, the island is a petri dish of living things one will never see anywhere else in the world. Just like its southern brother, Australia, Papua New Guinea has its own kangaroos and koalas. The most popular and exclusive animal in Papua New Guinea are the birds of paradise. They are beautifully eccentric birds with wildly abundant and colorful feathers. Find a documentary about them and enjoy their eccentricities in mating as well. The island also has the world’s largest pigeon (Southern crowned pigeon), smallest parrot (red-breasted pygmy parrot), longest lizard (Salvadore’s monitor lizard), and the largest butterfly (Queen Alexandra's birdwing).
For a country that’s 80 percent populated with tribes, they are no stranger to airplanes. There are more than 500 airstrips in Papua New Guinea, largely because the terrain is mountainous and the safest and fastest way to travel is by air. The international airport in the country is Jacksons International Airport or Port Moresby Airport, located outside Port Moresby (about 8 kilometers).
The leading airline is Air Niugini, but Qantas and Airlines PNG also offers flights to and from the island. Since it is located in the southeastern part of Asia, the rainy season is a big part of the year. It is best to avoid this time for flight reasons and to have a drier, less glum, experience in the country. So the best times or the driest months to visit are from May to October. Adjusting to global warming, it’s best to avoid the whole month of October.
The population of Papua New Guinea is a little over 8 million. They are descended from the Austronesians, or the neighboring southeastern countries, and from the Melanesians, or Vanuatu, Solomon Islands, and Fiji. The indigenous people are called Papuans, and the locals and people living in the urban areas are called Papua New Guineans.
The Papua New Guineans are generally warm and hospitable. They welcome guests and tourists and treat them with the utmost respect and importance. The urban folk speak the English language and are no stranger to technology and the new age. The challenge one faces is the actual living in the tribes, so feel free to be yourself in the urban areas among the culturally adjusted people of the city.
The head of the Papua New Guinea government is the Prime Minister, the country is under the Commonwealth reporting to Queen Elizabeth II. It stands as an independent Commonwealth realm with a National Parliament and a nominated governor-general, which is the voice of the people.
It constitution includes freedoms for the people, including freedom of speech, worship, and press, to name a few. The money used or the unit of currency is the Kina. About 3.25 K (Kina) is equal to one US dollar, or 4.00 K equals one English pound. The only other accepted currency is the Pound sterling, so run to a money exchange kiosk to convert your money to pounds or kina.
The Pacific war, the Asian part of the World War II where Japan is the Asian version of Germany, was waged in Papua New Guinea too. It was called the New Guinea campaign. Japanese forces, then known as the Empire of Japan, invaded the island early in 1942 and were camped there until their surrender three years later.
To the rescue were Australian and American forces, they rallied together and drove out the Japanese soldiers and their encampment. Historians say it was more the disease and starvation that killed the Japanese soldiers than the actual battle. One will be surprised to see remains of a crashed plane in the forests while trekking Papua New Guinea, or one resting at the bottom of the sea while scuba diving in the waters surrounding the island.
Apart from knowing the city, the landscape, and the terrain of the country one will be vacationing in, it is as equally important to find out what the religions in the area. While Papua New Guinea is known for its natural beauty, it also has a thriving religious community. The most prominent religion in the country is Roman Catholicism, probably because of the Spanish regime in the 16th century. The other three are Protestantism, the Evangelical Lutheran and the Seventh-Day Adventists. A large majority of Papua New Guineans identify themselves as members of a Christian church. A small percentage also identity with the Bahá'í faith and Islam.
There is always an element of danger that comes with out-of-the norm vacation experiences like tribal living. Not only when it comes to Papua New Guinea, but with all the other tribes all over the world. The most important thing you need to remember is that every country’s tourism department’s mantra and top priority is the safety of its tourists and visitors.
We all want to take extra precautions, especially when embarking into a world that is almost totally alien to us. Remember to listen intently to everything your tour guide or tribal guide says. If you have questions, ask them right away, clarify and confirm. If you’ve been handed out papers, like maps or safety tips, please read them.
Once we get to Papua New Guinea, we must know where we are. Usually, we’d be landing in Jacksons International Airport. This is the main airport of Papua New Guinea, we’ll be going home through this airport as well. Once there, we’ll be staying initially in the city, the capital city of Papua New Guinea is Port Moresby.
This city is only 8 kilometers away from the airport. Other big cities in Papua New Guinea are the cities of Lae, Arawa, and Mount Hagen. Port Moresby is just like any other city, complete with an array of nice restaurants and wifi connections. This is where we will say goodbye to our connections to the outside world. It’s time to login, update our status and announce that we will be going off the grid for the next one to two weeks.
The right clothes help a lot in how you can maximize your enjoyment of tribal living. Forget fashion and think comfort and durability. Choose strong fabric for your clothes, bring enough changes of everyday shirts, every other day pants or shorts to last your stay in the tribe.
We don’t recommend shorts as insects like mosquitoes. You haven’t seen how big and abundant they are in the rainforests. Bring a nice coat jacket for when it rains, hiking boots for trekking and flip flops for when you are going to get wet or muddy. Leggings for women are comfortable, but the best choice are strong and durable jeans. For your whole outfit, think running a marathon, but with stronger and more durable material.
As an individual, we sometimes like to have a walk in the woods by ourselves. It’s nice to spend some time with our thoughts and just enjoy the fresh air and the view with a nice stroll after eating or early in the morning. This is a major no-no in the handbook of tribal experiences.
Being a tourist, we stand out in the place just by the color of our hair or our complexion, let alone the clothes we wear. Your tribal tour guide would be wise to remind you that you should not wander alone, especially at night. Do not take that as invitation to walk alone in the day, be sure to inform someone where you are off to, have a partner with you at all times, and if you have to absolutely go it alone, do not wander far and make sure you are still within earshot of your tribe.
Tribal living could be a culture shock and an amazing experience in the beginning, but it does not promise the same level of excitement as it delivers in the first day. There will be stretches in your tribal immersion where you will experience downtime, so having a book will help.
You might regularly be asked to help out in preparing food, building shelters, or even hunting for meat, but that only happens at a maximum of once in a day. During the other times, you will be alone with your thoughts under a tree or in your tent and it’s nice to have a book to read to pass the time. Do this only if there really is nothing left for you to do.
The old adage works perfectly in these situations if you are in a tight spot and don’t know what to do. If your tribal guide is busy or is not around and you are not sure what to do, just do what the others are doing.
It could be the moment in your tour package where the tribal guide is deliberately out of sight. It’s your turn to experience tribal living in your own terms. So if unsure, just remember, ‘monkey see monkey do.’ If that is how the Papuans plant the crops, just do it like they do. Is this how they clean the fruits and fresh greens? Then go ahead and take their lead. Be safe and just don’t get carried away with all the mimicking.
On the island of Papua New Guinea, there are hundreds of tribes or indigenous peoples. Collectively, they are called the Papuan people. Some have been there for thousands of years, untouched by civilization and have never ever seen a toothbrush, let alone a smartphone.
Scientists and explorers believe there may be more tribes there, as they continue to explore and discover new tribes, the most recent being the Korowai tribe. Some tribes are big, with a population that reaches thousands, and some are quite small, with less than a hundred people in their tribe. Every single one of them have their own traditions, beliefs, ways of life, and their own culture.
The Korowai tribe is one of the most peaceful tribes in Papua New Guinea. Their weapons for hunting and for self-defense are the bow and arrow. They live in tree houses towering up to 140 feet. It’s more due to protection from wild animals while they sleep rather than the nice view of the forest from above.
They are peaceful but very territorial, so be careful not to cross any lines in their territory. Men and women live together, and the women tend to marry quit young. The men have to be at least 20 years old to do it.
The wig-men of Papua New Guinea are one of the most popular tribes in the island, they are also known as the Huli tribe. Their tribe is located in the central highlands of Papua New Guinea, not far from Tari City.
Many tourism companies offer a tribal immersion with the Huli people. One can easily have a tribal experience with the Hulis upon setting foot in Tari City. These people wear large headdresses, all colorful and friendly-looking. They are perhaps the least isolated tribe in Papua New Guinea.
The Huli tribe is probably the only tribe without a chief, and this could be the earliest version of democracy. They are a happy tribe and join festivities in the town whenever they can. Their main currency are pigs. They hunt and use pigs to purchase other items they need and they use pigs to pay for a bride and other traditional rituals.
The Hulis are used to foreigners and tourists, they even know how to take a selfie. They are very welcoming so don’t be shy to mingle with them, you might even take home an authentic Huli wig if you are lucky.
The Asaro tribe might look scary at first because they have ashen body paint all over their bodies. They also wear creepy masks, but they are also a friendly indigenous people. Also known as Asaro Mudmen, the tribe lives in the Eastern highlands province of Papua New Guinea, just outside the village of Goroka.
They live in circular or square bamboo huts that are low, but with very high roofs, like a loft, that’s cool. They also use bamboo for cooking and for weapons. If you ever get a tour with the Asaro Mudmen, don’t miss a traditional Asaro wedding, check out their traditional cooking too.
If tribal living is not your cup of tea, there are a lot of other options when vacationing in Papua New Guinea. The place is most popular for diving. You can train, get your license, and dive the next day all in one package. The waters of Papua New Guinea are rich in corals, fish and marine animals, even wrecks from World War II.
Another activity is the hike along the famous Kokoda Trail. Of course, this trip is not worth it without at least a day spent with the Papua New Guinea tribes, so jump in and don’t be shy, we believe you are ready for this adventure!