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.
Head of state: Queen Elizabeth II, represented by a Governor-General
Prime minister: James Marape
Parliament elected James Marape as prime minister on 30 May 2019, a day after the resignation of his predecessor, Peter O'Neill.
This followed Mr Marape's own resignation as finance minister in April due to differences over a high-value gas deal. Mr O'Neill's handling of the gas deal, corruption charges and a deteriorating economy combined to create a period of government instability that ultimately sealed his fate.
His successor, Mr Marape, was elected by 101 votes to 8 in the 111-seat house, defeating former prime minister Sir Mekere Morauta.
Prior to his position as minister of finance and rural development, Mr Marape served as minister of education. He also briefly held several caretaker cabinet posts in August 2012.
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. The media operate in a relatively free environment, says Reporters Without Borders.
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.
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.
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.
1997 - Government hires mercenaries to quash a nine-year separatist revolt on Bougainville Island, sparking an army mutiny and civil unrest. Army forces Prime Minister Chan to quit.
2013 - Papua New Guinea agrees to provide offshore processing for asylum seekers who reach Australia by boat. The Manus Island detention centre generates controversy.