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Papua New Guinea: Etiquette, Customs, Facts and Vital Information

by Lizbeth Pereira |

Oceania, Papua New Guinea, Travel, Travel Health & Safety

Papua New Guinea Festival?
Photo by jurvetson

FACTS & STATS

Location: Oceania, the eastern half of the island of New Guinea, between the Coral Sea and the South Pacific Ocean, east of Indonesia and north of Australia.

papua new guinea mapCapital: Port Moresby.

Climate: Tropical, with rainy seasons from December to March and May to October.

Population: 5,931,769 according to July 2008 estimates. Of the total population about 37% live below the poverty line as per 2002 estimates. Close to 80% are unemployed in the urban areas as of 2004. The economy of Papua New Guinea suffers from a lack of proper exploitation of its rich natural resources. The population, especially in the rural areas, is dependent on agriculture which contributes to about 34% of the economy. Export of precious metals such as gold and copper as well as oil, seafood, palm oil, cocoa, and coffee is another form of revenue for the government. The country also benefits from substantial financial aid from Australia.

port moresbyEthnic Make-up: Melanesian, Papuan, Negrito, Micronesian, Polynesian.

Religions: Christian 96% (including Roman Catholic 27%, Evangelical Lutheran 19.5%, United Church 11.5%, Seventh-Day Adventist 10%, Pentecostal 8.6%, Evangelical Alliance 5.2%, Anglican 3.2%, Baptist 2.5%), Bahai 0.3%, Indigenous faiths 3.5%. The Constitution guarantees freedom to practice all faiths. Missionaries of various denominations freely preach their faiths and convert people.

boys swimming papuaLanguage: Melanesian Pidgin, Motu, and about 820 indigenous languages. English is spoken by about 2%.

Government: Constitutional parliamentary democracy.

Travel Issues: Travelers to Papua New Guinea need to own a passport that is valid for up to a year since date of arrival, a valid visa, documents to prove return or onward travel, and proof of sufficient funds to support their period of stay. It is possible to obtain business and tourist visas for up to 60 days on arrival at Jackson International Airport but this might prove more expensive.

papua volcanoPNG Customs have strict regulations against bringing certain food and animal products into the country. Dairy products, wooden objects, exotic animal products, fruits and vegetables are some of the banned items on a list that includes fire arms, pornography and drugs.

Health & Safety: Travelers to PNG require a Yellow Fever Vaccination Certificate and need to watch out for outbreaks of cholera and malaria. It would be wise to drink only bottled or boiled water and use it for personal ablutions as well. Eat well cooked food and fruits you have peeled yourself.

Political turmoils are often a cause for concern and it would be a good idea to get a picture of the current situation before setting out. Ethnic violence happens even in the urban cities and can break out unexpectedly. Adhere to curfew times and stay away from trouble spots. Security issues such as pick pocketing, armed robbery, car jacking, and similar petty crimes may happen in peace times too and should be guarded against by dressing casually and not drawing attention to your self.

papua boy in boat?
Photo by JennyHuang

SOCIETY & CULTURE

papua airThe People
PNG has a culture that is a melange of about 800 different varieties all of which still retain vestiges of its ancient elements that go back about 10,000 years. One striking feature that seems relevant to all is their lifestyle which is close to nature and a part of it rather than apart from it. This means there is no exploitation but a sharing that returns to nature a part of what came from it. Boiled food, stone-baked bread, and palm leaf abodes are some instances of this life style.

boys in papua new guineaThe Religion
About 96% of the population of PNG are Christian and include almost all denominations from Roman Catholics to Anglicans. A small percentage practices their indigenous faiths while new faiths such as the Bahai have made their presence felt in the urban areas.

Role of Family
The extended family is the norm, and they live either under the same roof or in clusters in communities. Children consider aunts and uncles as parents, and adults do not differentiate between their offspring and other youngsters in the family. Infertile couples are often given a child by relatives to rear as their own.

papua new guinea marketMost societies are patriarchal with the exception of a few who are traditionally matriarchal. Men take care of heavy work such as construction of houses and boats, clearing land and farming. It is also their responsibility to uphold family and tribal honour for which they often take up arms. Women take care of the home front, children, and domestic animals. In cities, small numbers of women work outside the homes but in restricted fields.

Ancestors
Ancestors are revered, and they follow all rituals such as the Day of the Dead and other relevant anniversaries. Older relatives are taken care of within the extended family structure and it is normally the duty of the female relatives to offer physical care while the males ensure financial help.

papua new guinea tree houseRecreational Activities
With the missionaries came rugby, basketball, volleyball, and soccer. Game hunting is a traditional sport and this is done with sling shots and bows and arrows. Playing cards and stori, which means “sit and talk,” are other strong favourites. Music and dance are enjoyed by all ages and form an integral part of all get togethers.

Anything else important for this culture
A long history of western acculturation has left its mark in the urban population. But such concepts as eating out, buying ready-made clothes, and other forms of consumerism are generally steered clear of by the local people mainly due to prohibitive prices. Traditionally, violence plays a ritualistic part in PNG society when it comes to protecting tribal honour but in recent history this has paved the way for vicious ethnic conflicts powered by deadly modern weapons that cause mass destruction. It is never a good idea to bring this up in conversation.

 Woman at Port Moresby market
Photo by ximenatapia

ETIQUETTE & CUSTOMS

Meetings & Greetings
Shaking hands is an acceptable mode of greeting along with a pleasant Yu orait? or Yu stop i orait? (How are you?) to which the typical response would be Mi orait. Na yu? which, of course, means, “I’m fine, and you?” depending on the time of day, your greeting could be Moning (Good Morning), Apinun (Good Afternoon) or Gutnait (Good Night).

png riverCourtesy
When addressing seniors or important people you should use their full title and full name. It is considered correct to address senior citizens as papa and mamma. Once relationships have been established, it is alright to drop formalities and use first names.

Gift Giving
There is no formality attached to gift giving, but it is normal for visitors to drop in with some form of eatables. If you have received some gift, it is considered proper for you to return the favour when you visit.

Dress Code
In the urban scenario it is usual to don suits for business meetings and other formal affairs. Women are expected to dress formally and keep shoulders and knees covered. This is essential if you are to be taken seriously as women are generally considered less competent by the average PNG male.

PNG boat celebrationDining Etiquette
Dining consists mainly of two large meals—Kaikai bilong moning (breakfast) and kaikai bilong apinum (evening meal). In rural areas you may be seated on the floor, be served on large leaves, and eat with your hands. In the city areas you will have dining furniture and cutlery. Food is served by an important member such as the elder, a parent or even the guest. It is normal for guest to eat some food and take the rest with them for others. Second helpings signify that you’re not satisfied and so this should be avoided. If dining at a restaurant do not leave a tip as it is considered insulting. A polite thank you is all that’s expected.

Visiting a home
It is usual for visitors to drop in unannounced and be welcomed warmly. They eat whatever the family is having or just share a smoke and chew tobacco. They might even stay for days and be part of the family for that period of time. However, in the urban areas this style of visiting is rare and guests find it convenient to confirm their time of visits. This may not apply to relatives. It is a good idea to bring a token gift in the form of candy or toys if there are children in the home you’re visiting.

Communication Style
English is spoken by a minority in the cities and so, it would be of immense benefit to you to learn a few basic terms. There are about 800 ethnic languages, and so, this should apply to the area you intend to visit. Locals do not use their local language in the presence of others who may not understand as this is considered rude.

PNG Tribesman
Photo by 710928003

Dos and Don’ts

Carry drinking water with you wherever you go. Ensure you have adequate supplies of malaria and cholera medication. Always take advice from trustworthy sources such as hotel travel desks regarding best places and times to visit. Certain areas are best avoided. Do not take advice from quack tour operators, taxi drivers, and strangers. If a deal seems too good to be true, it probably is. Avoid falling for scams. Foreign tourists have been targeted and robbed of valuables and documents by smart operators.

Volcano, swimming photos by tarotastic
Two painted boys, yali tribesman by 710928003
Air bldg by  Global Integrity
Boat festival by jurvetson
Port Moresby photos by ximenatapia

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