Papua New Guinea country profile

  • 7 October 2015
  • From the section Asia

Papua New Guinea occupies the eastern part of the world's second largest island and is prey to volcanic activity, earthquakes and tidal waves.

Linguistically, it is the world's most diverse country, with more than 700 native tongues.

Some 80% of Papua New Guinea's people live in rural areas with few or no facilities of modern life.

Many tribes in the isolated mountainous interior have little contact with one another, let alone with the outside world, and live within a non-monetarised economy dependent on subsistence agriculture.


The Independent State of Papua New Guinea

Port Moresby

  • Population 7.2 million

  • Area 462,840 sq km (178,704 sq miles)

  • Major languages English, Tok Pisin, Hiri Motu

  • Major religions Christianity, indigenous beliefs

  • Life expectancy 61 years (men), 66 years (women)

  • Currency kina

Getty Images


Head of state: Queen Elizabeth II, represented by a Governor-General.

Prime minister: Peter O'Neill

Image copyright Getty Images

Parliament endorsed Peter O'Neill as prime minister in August 2012, finally drawing the line under a prolonged power struggle with his rival Sir Michael Somare, the founding father of independent Papua New Guinea.

Prior to national elections in June 2012, both men had declared themselves to be the rightful prime minister.

Mr O'Neill was first chosen by parliament to be acting Prime Minister in August 2011 after Sir Michael, who had by then been absent from the house for several months due to illness, was declared to be no longer eligible.


Radio is important in Papua New Guinea, which has scattered, isolated settlements and low levels of literacy.

The government operates a national network and provincial stations. News coverage is said to be balanced. But funding problems have taken some regional radios off the air.

Television coverage is limited mainly to Port Moresby and the provincial capitals.


1526 - Portuguese sailor Jorge de Meneses is the first European visitor. He names one of the islands "ilhas dos Papuas" or "land of fuzzy-haired people".

1546 - Spanish explorer Inigo Ortiz de Retes names the other main island New Guinea because the islanders resemble the people of Guinea in Africa.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption 24th January 1885: British troops hoist the Union Jack at Port Moresby

1884 - Britain establishes a protectorate over south-east New Guinea, while Germany annexes the northern part of New Guinea.

1906 - Control of British New Guinea transferred to the newly independent Commonwealth of Australia and renamed Territory of Papua.

1961 - First elections involving indigenous population.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Port Moresby has grown into a modern town

1963 - UN transfers control of West New Guinea to Indonesia. Today this region is called Papua.

1975 - Papua New Guinea attains full independence from Australia. Sir Michael Somare becomes PM.

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