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Papua New Guinea History

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Archaeological evidence suggests that humans arrived in New Guinea at least 60,000 years ago from South East Asia. Due to the mountains and terrain found in New Guinea, the explorers who came and established tribes and clans developed languages and cultures in complete isolation from each other. Many were unaware that there was a neighbouring tribe only a few kilometres away. The result of this development is one of the most diverse populations in the world. The first clans and tribes to settle were traditionally hunters and gatherers, but after their arrival on the island, it is believed that they began to garden and cultivate the crops that are still used today. By the time of the first European contact, a successful agricultural system was already in place.

The first European contact came from Portuguese explorer Jorge de Meneses in the early 16th century. Upon spotting the island, he named it Ilhas dos Papuas, which translates to “Land of the Fuzzy Haired People”. Spanish explorer Yñigo Ortiz de Retez added New Guinea to the name in 1545 because of the resemblance he saw between the natives he met and those found on the African Guinea coast. Next to visit were the Dutch who in 1660 set up the Dutch East Indies Company, claiming sovereignty over New Guinea. They remained in control of the island for a century.

British, French and American explorers followed after the Dutch. Whalers and traders were common visitors bringing new tools and technology. They also brought devastating diseases that massively affected the population of Papua New Guinea. The technology they brought included guns which only encouraged and aided in civil warfare. By the mid-18th century, more traders and missionaries came but were limited to accessible coastal areas. It was not until the 1870s when Russian anthropologist Nicholai Miklukho-Maklai set out on an expedition to the island that more became known about the native peoples who inhabited it. He spent many years living amongst the native tribes and was one of the first to describe their way of life.

By the 19th century, colonial interest in New Guinea was peaked and 1828 saw the Dutch claim the western half of New Guinea (now Irian Jaya). In 1884, the eastern half of the main and surrounding islands were divided between the British and the Germans with the halves being aptly named British New Guinea and German New Guinea. In 1902 British New Guinea was placed under the authority of the Commonwealth of Australia and in 1905 it was renamed the Territory of Papua. Australia occupied German New Guinea during the First World War, and afterwards, a League of Nations mandate allowed it to remain under Australian control. The Second World War saw Japan invade in 1941 which they continued to occupy until American and Australian troops were able to recapture it in the last few months of the war.

After the Second World War, Papua and New Guinea were combined into an administrative union. The 1960s saw the beginnings of an independence movement. The name of the territory was officially changed to Papua New Guinea in 1972, and the nation was granted independence in 1975, although there are still strong financial ties with Australia. Despite a somewhat tumultuous political history since 1975, Papua New Guinea remains a fascinating destination for adventurous travelers who wish to discover what Papua New Guinea’s tourism board calls “a million different journeys”.



Papua New Guinea Travel Information

At Goway we believe that a well-informed traveller is a safer traveller. With this in mind, we have compiled an easy-to-navigate travel information section dedicated to Papua New Guinea. 

Learn about the history and culture of Papua New Guinea, the must-try food and drink, and what to pack in your suitcase. Read about Papua New Guinea's nature and wildlife, weather and geography, and 'Country Quickfacts' compiled by our travel experts. Our globetrotting tips, as well as our visa and health information, will help ensure you're properly prepared for a safe and enjoyable trip. The only way you could possibly learn more is by embarking on your journey and discovering Papua New Guinea for yourself. Start exploring...book one of our Papua New Guinea tours today!


Extend Your Stay

Consider an additional stopover to your Papua New Guinea tours at one of Goway's other South Pacific destinations. You can choose from our selection of Australian vacations, New Zealand vacation packagesTahiti vacation packages, stay at one of our Fiji resorts or perhaps take a Cook Island vacation. This can be done stopping over en route to or from New Zealand.



Book your Papua New Guinea tour with Goway!

Goway's DOWNUNDER wizards offer many ways to explore, experience and enjoy amazing Papua New Guinea. There are different lodges for different regions, a stay in a Sepik riverboat as well as a luxury small vessel cruising in the region. We can also arrange adventure treks and diving experiences. Let us custom-design what will be your most amazing globetrotting journey.


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