Highland Papua New Guinea png is divided into four regions (Highlands, Islands, Momase and Papua Regions) and these into a total of 20 Provinces

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Highland Papua New Guinea

- PNG is divided into four regions (Highlands, Islands, Momase and Papua Regions) and these into a total of 20 Provinces

  • - PNG is divided into four regions (Highlands, Islands, Momase and Papua Regions) and these into a total of 20 Provinces

- the Highland Region is composed of five provinces:

  • - the Highland Region is composed of five provinces:

  • * According to the census in 2000. Note: the census is said to be unreliable and there is considerable variation between different sources

Basic geographical facts:

  • - The Highland region is composed of a long string of valleys separated by mountains

  • - Highest regions receive snowfall, which is unsual in the tropics

    • - the highest mountain is Mt. Wilhelm (4 509 metres, located at the intersection of Simbu, Western Highland and Madang provinces)
    • - Enga is the highest province with altitudes of about 2000 metres

Basic geographical facts: urban centres

  • Kundiawa (capital of Simbu): population about 5000

  • Goroka (capital of Eastern Highlands): population about 25 000

    • home of several national institutes, for example The University of Goroka and the PNG Instute of Medical Research
  • Wabag (capital of Enga): population about 3 300

  • Mendi (capital of Southern Highlands): n/a

  • Mount Hagen (capital of Western Highlands): population about 40 000

    • third largest city in PNG

Demographic facts:

  • Papua New Guinea is ethnically and linguistically a very diverse country

    • Over 850 indigenious languages are spoken and there are at least as many traditional societies, with only about 7000 speakers per language on the avarage
      • note: only Vanuatu has a higher language density
    • This applies also for the Highlands region
  • Major languages:

    • Tok pisin: creole language and the lingua franca of PNG
    • Enga: both a linguistic and ethnic group
      • Enga is a unique case in the PNG, since it is the only major group in the province
      • other minor ethnic groups in the Enga province are the Ipili and Nete speakers
  • Other languages and ethnic groups:

    • Melpa (Western HL), Huli (Southern HL), Wiru (Southern HL), Kuman (Simbu)*, etc.
  • *Trivia: The term "Simbu" comes from the Kuman language and mean roughly translated: "Thank you!"


  • oldest human remains found in PNG are ca. 50 000 years old and the colonisation is assumed to have happened some 60 000 years ago

  • agriculture invented independently ca. 9 000 years ago

    • traces of drainage ditches found at the sc. Kuk site in the interior Highlands
    • possibly for cultivating taro (Colocasia esculenta)
    • skilled techniques of agriculture: adapted to high population density, hilly terrain, frost, heavy rain and earthquakes
      • indigenous crops: sugarcane, Pacific bananas, yams, taro, sago and pandanus
      • followed later by the sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas) in the 17th century
    • tropical horticulture or permaculture
  • silviculture

History: colonial adventures

  • first Europeans to come to PNG were Spanish or Portuguese navigators in the 16th century

  • formal colonisation by the British in various stages from 1883 and placement under the Australian Commonwealth in 1902

  • Germany colonised the northeast quarter of the island in 1884, during WWI Australia occupied it and held it until 1921

  • under Australian administration until independence in 1975, with the exception of WWII during which the island was occupied by the Japanese (1941-45)

  • however: the Highlands remained largely unexplored up until the 1930's

    • 1933 Leahy brothers find the Wahgi valley in Western Highlands

Economy: agriculture

  • agriculture supports the majority of the Highlands population (80-85% of the whole population of PNG)

  • subsistence farming, i.e. farmers produce enough for themselves to subsist, but not products for the market

  • pig-keeping important, both economically and culturally

    • exchange of pigs in compensation and bridewealth payments and in large festivals, such as the Melpa moka or the Enga tee
  • today also cash-cropping, the most

  • important cash crops being coffee and tea

Economy: mining

  • PNG is very rich in natural resources, especially minerals

    • these, most notably oil, gold and copper account for 72% of the export earnings and 26.3 % of the GDP
    • remember: first Europeans in the Highlands were gold prospectors
  • besides of being a major contributor to the GDP, mining is also a big source of both environmental and social problems

    • case: Porgera mine in the Enga province
      • operated since 1990 by a group of companies called Porgera Joint Venture
      • release of (treated) waste directly into the Lagaip river system (which flows into Strickland river)
      • the waste has according to environmental organisations negative effects on fish stocks, water plants and community health on large area along the rivers
      • deaths in the mine area have lead the local landowners to call for the closure of the mine in 2005 until deaths are properly investigated

Porgera mine

Further reading:

  • Classics, ceremonial exchange & warfare:

  • Meggit, Mervyn,1969: Pigs, Pearlshells and Women: Marriage in the New Guinea Highlands. Englewood Cliffs (NJ): Prentice Hall

  • Meggit, Mervyn, 1977: Blood is Their Argument: Warfare among the Mae Enga Tribesmen of the New Guinea Highlands. Mountain View (CA): Mayfield

  • Strathern, Andrew, 1971: The Rope of Moka: Big-men and Ceremonial Exchange in Mount Hagen, New Guinea. Cambridge: Cambridge UP

  • Strathern, Andrew & Strathern, Marilyn, 1971: Self-Decoration in Mount Hagen. Toronto London: University of Toronto Press

  • Environment and current issues:

  • Diamond, Jared, 2005: Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. New York: Viking

  • Strathern, A. & Stewart, P., 2000: Arrow Talk: Transaction, Transition and Contradiction in New Guinea Highlands Society. Kent (OH): Kent UP

  • West, Paige: "Environmental Conservation and Mining: Between Experience and Expectation in the Eastern Highlands of Papua New Guinea", The Contemporary Pacific 18.2 (2006) 295-313

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