** New Guinea

New Guinea

Figure 1.--The people of New Guinea were largely unknown to the outside world until after World War I. The Smithsonian Institution and Dutch Government sponsored an expedition led by to New Guinea under Matthew Stirling who worked with the Moni people. The Dani / Ndani people are closely associated with the Lani group to the west. They inhabit the central highlands of western New Guinea (Indonesian Papua). They are one of the largest highland tribes. Here is a group of Dani children in Animaugi Village, West Papua. The Dani are perhaps the best known of the Papua etnic groups because of tourist activity in the Baliem Valley, one of the areas the Dani predominate. The Moni people call the Baliem Valley Ndani and the Dani have thus acquired the name, although it is not a term the Dani themselves use.

New Guinea is the second largest island in the world, only exceeded in area by far away and very different Greenland. It is a rugged tropical island located just south of the Equator. The island lies at the southeastern edge of Southeast Asia, to the east of Indonesia, and north of Australia in the Southwest Pacific. For a long geological period was part of a land bridge connecting Australia with the Southeast Asian mainlznd. It was separated from Australia when when the area between the two landmasses was flooded after the warming phase of the last glacial period. This created the Torres Strait. To the north is the Pacific Ocean to the south the Arafura and Coral Seas separate the island from Australia. .The island is long and relatively narrow and is crossed by a rugged mountain range--The Bismsrck and Owen Stanley Ranges. Much of the coast is swampy. The interior is covered with dense, tropical rainforests. The plains in the interior are fertile and well watered. There are extensive mineral (gold, silver, platinum, and copper) deposits, but at the time of World War II were undeveloped. There are also petroleum and natural-gas deposits. There were few roads. New Guinea is part of Oceania and is located in the Pacific island region known as Melanesia. The island dor milenia was inhabited by primitive Stone Age people with no centralized tribal organization. The first to arrive were the Dutch who established trading posts in the west. The Europeans eventually partitioned the island in the late-9th century. The Netherland retained the western half. Germany claimed the northeast. Britain/Australia clained the southeat. The British znd Australians took over the German colony during World War I. The eastern half of the islsand was the location of an extended World War IIn campaign. The western half of the island today is the Indonesian provinces of Papua and West Papua. The eastern half and a number of offshore islands forms independent Papua New Guinea.


New Guinea is a huge island located just 100 miles north of Australia. It is the the world's second largest island after only Greenland. The two island could not be more different. Greeland despite its name is largely covered by ice. New Guinea in contrast is very green and has been covered by rainforest which tragically is changing as the island is now being deforested. Geologically the island was was separated from the Australian mainland (around 5,000 BC). The separating body of water is noe known as the Torres Strait. The name Papua has also been long-associated with the entire island. The island is divided by a towering mountaneous spine. All he rivers rin down from the spine and are relatiely short. The highest mountain peak between the Andes and the Himalayas is found on New Guinea--Puncak Jaya/Mount Carstenz (4,884 m). Geologically the island is part of the Australian Plate (Sahul). It once formed part of the super-continent Gondwana. The origin of most of New Guinea's flora and fauna is closely linked to that of Australia. Gondwana began to separate ino the modern continental configuration about 140 million years ago. Sahul separated from what is now Antarctica about 96 million years ago. New Guinea and Australia moved north. And throughout the island's geological history there have been many land connections with Australia.New Guinea as it moved north eventually reached the tropics.


Agriculture was independently begun in the New Guinea highlands (about 7,000 BC), about the ame time as agricultural developed in Mesopotamia. Headhunting and cannibalism was endemic in New Guinea, but it is not entirely clear just when thee tradiions developed. Another wave of migration of Austronesia speaking peoples arrived in coastal areas (about 500 BC). This population brought pottery, pigs, and important fishing technologies. More recently the sweet potato rached New Guinea (about 1700). It enabled far higher crop yields than traditional staple (taro). The result was a substantial increased population in the highlands. The first resource thoght to be important was copra (dried meat of the coconut). There was a growing demand for coconut oil in Europe. Godeffroy's in Hamburg, the largest trading firm in the Pacific, began trading for copra in New Guinea and the nearby islands.


New Guinea was settled as part of the first migration out of Africa (60,000-%0,000 BP). The people are now known as Melanesians. They passed through Southeast Asia before the modern population arrived. As it was during the Ice Age, ocean levels were lower and distances between modern islands wwere shorter or non existent. Thus what is New Guinea and Australia were one of the first landmasses after Africa and southern Eurasia to be populated by modern humans. Modern new Guineans thus can claim to be dome of the oldest continuous cultures on the planet. New Guinea was among the most isolated places on the plannet with virtually nmo contact with the outsude world. The island was discovered from a fairly early point of the European naritime expansion into Oceania, but there was no settlent or colonization. Portuguese and Spanish navigators sailing in the South Pacific were probably the first Europeans to sight New Guinea (16th century). Don Jorge de Meneses, a Portuguese explorer, discovered the island (about 1526-27). Although various European navigators visited and explored New Guinea and nearby isands, there was no colonization. The Dutch as part of their colonization of the East Indies (Indonesia) claimed the wertern part of the island. The eastern part of the island (modern Papua) was not colonized until later (late-19th century). And here there was a difference between the north and south. The Germans claimed the northeastern part of New Guinea (1884). They also acquired other islnds north and east of New Guinea. The late colonization reflected the general European assessment as to the value of Mew Guinea. Germany authorized a cahrtered compamy to sdminister its ne colony. The Imperail government took direct control (1899). The German Pacific possessions chnged hands in World War I. Australian forces troops occupied German New Guinea and it remained under Australian military control (until 1921). After the War, the new League of Nations introduced a whole new concept to European colonization--the mandate. A League mandated obligated the mandate power to govern in the best interets of the population and prepare them for independence. The British Government, on behalf of the Commonwealth of Australia, assumed a mandate from the League of Nations for governing the Territory of New Guinea (1920). At the time the independence of Australia was still evolving. That mandate was administered by the Australian Government until the Japanese World War II invasion (1942). The British reacting to the German action in the north, proclaimed a protectorate over southerneaster New Guinea (which they called Papua and its adjacent islands. The protectorate, was annexed outright (1888). It was transferred to the Commonwealth of Australia (1902). The Papua Act of 1905, changed British New Guinea to the Territory of Papua, beginning the formal Australian administration (1906). This continued until the JPacific War (1941-45). Dutch, German, British and Australian colonial control primarily affected the coastal areas. Few Europeans ventured into the rugged and often hostile interior. And as might be expected a strong lure was needed. A in other areas that lure was gold. Michael Leahy, an Australian prospector from rural Queensland, is believed to have been the first European to make contact with the highlands tribes in the interior). Leahy and his brother Dan began looking for goldThey explored the highlands with Patrol Officer James Taylor (1932-36). Leahykept a dairy and took photograps used in a fascinating documentary--'Frst contact'. The War turned this isolated island into a major battlefield--the longest camapaign of the Pacific War (1942-44). After Pearl Harbor the Japanese began landing along the northern coast of New Guinea, occupying all but the eastern tip of the island. Rgis and Port Moresb were to be taken by an amphibious operation, but was turned back by american carriers in the Battle of the Coral Sea (may 1942). Blocked at sea, the Japanese attemoted an overland invasion across the rugged Owb\n Sranley Mountains. They were ropped by Australian Infantry a few miles outside of Port Moresby. The Allies then began a an extened drive up the norghern coast of the Island lasting more than 2 years. The Austrakian Government suspended civil administration. Rge Island was governed by a military administration based in Port Moresby, where Gen. Douglas MacArthur occasionally set up his headquarters. After the Japanese surrender, the north east and southeast was joined in an administrative union. Western New Guinea was restored to Dutch control and this became Indonesian territory after that colony won independence (1949). This estanlished the modern configuration of New Guinea.

Political Division

The huge size of New Zealand and the rugged terraine has significantly impacted the people living there. Since time memorial it was inhabited by stone age people with limited technology that has changed little for millennia. They were among the most primitive people on earth. The western half of the island was part of Dutch East Indies. The eastern half was nomially ruled by the Germans, English, and Australians. The colonial touch sas ligh and did nit go much beyound a few coasyal outposts. The various tribes had only local connections and war between them was endemic. The tribal warfare led to head hunting which until World War II is what the islands were best known for. The geography of the island meant that given the level of technology that any large political grouping was unlikely. The mountanous spine divided the island and the rugged interior impeded interactions on both sides of the the towering spine. Only with the coming of the Europeans did a form of wider political union develop which ultimately led to the modern split beteen the Indonesian comtrolled west and Papua in the east. The Indonesian west is Papua and Papua Barat (formerly West Irian Jaya). The now indepenent east and associated islands are Papua New Guinea. Tribal conflict still affects the entire island, but is a far cry from earlier eras.


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Created: 5:59 AM 3/14/2010
Last updated: 11:05 PM 10/25/2021