Physically remote and still very isolated, Papua New Guinea is one of the least explored countries in the world, both culturally and geographically. This means its cultural life and customs have been allowed to flourish untainted by outside influence for centuries. And, due to the huge number of tribes living here – an estimated 750 – it has more than just well-preserved culture; it has a glorious abundance of it, with hundreds of diverse tribal traditions and ceremonies that are very local and utterly unique. Let’s find out the culture and customs in Papua New Guinea with Bestechz!



History and Ethnic Relations

Emergence of the Nation. Before colonization, an individual’s identity was grounded in his or her kin group and rarely extended beyond the kin groups of close relatives and in-laws. While an individual may have shared a language and culture with tens of thousands of persons, only leaders and other unusual individuals spent time outside the villages nearest to his or her “place.” After colonization, Papua New Guineans experienced political, social, and economic integration. Missionaries and administrators suppressed “tribal” warfare to allow freedom of movement and integrated villagers into the colonial economy as plantation workers and mission helpers. Missionary activities also led to the spread of Christianity and Western education; the building of roads, airstrips, and radio stations; and the shared experience of racial prejudice directed at local peoples by many whites.

Colonization and change were uneven, with island and coastal areas colonized before the interior and some groups resisting change for decades. Outsiders did not visit the highlands until the 1930s, and some areas were first contacted as late as the 1970s. Differences in education and economic development contributed to ethnic and class differences.

National Identity. In the 1960s, Australia moved toward liberating Papua New Guinea by establishing self-government and a House of Assembly and building institutions of higher learning to train an educated elite to serve the country.

The focus on higher education was matched by efforts to foster closeness and national pride among the students that would cut across ties with wantoks (those in the same language group) and flow outward to the rest of the country. Students were taught to express their experiences in poetry, music, stories, and art that dealt with the “beauty of village life,” the opposite sex, pride in their cultures, and the question of how they could lead the country into the modern world without becoming selfish. Regardless of this soul-searching, class differences are emerging as educated parents with good jobs provide for their children’s future, and there is increasing intermarriage between persons of different cultural background who mingle in school and at work. Communicating in English or Tok Pisin, many couples fail to pass on their mother tongues to their children, alienating their village kin.

Ethnic Relations. Before independence on 16 September 1975, a number of micronationalist movements threatened secession from a nation that many felt was a colonial invention. Papua Besena emerged in 1973 under the leadership of Josephine Abaijah. Its objective was to free Papua from Australian colonial rule and unification with the more heavily populated New Guinea. In March 1975, Papua Besena declared Papuan independence but did not go beyond that symbolic act.

In 1964, the discovery of copper in Bougainville resulted in the construction of a giant copper mine. It was argued that the profits from the mine would benefit all of Papua New Guinea. Bougainvilleans were suspicious of the motives of the Australians and the expatriate company and resentful of the mainland Papua New Guineans who were brought in to build the mine. In November 1988, a guerilla operation began that became the Bougainville Revolutionary Army (BRA). The conflict continued throughout the 1990s and has been difficult for the police and defense forces that have been pitted against fellow citizens.

Customs and traditions that define the rich culture of Papua New Guinea:

Sing-Sing and Cultural Shows in Papua New Guinea


Covering the myriad cultures and traditions of people who call Papua New Guinea home is a daunting task. There’s so much to say on the subject that you could fill at least 10 books. One of the best ways to discover Papua New Guinea’s culture is to attend a sing-sing– a ritual gathering in which people from one or more tribes share their cultural traditions or celebrate events.

Some sing-sings happen spontaneously, while others are planned events taking place every year. The largest of them all is the Mount Hagen Cultural Show, an annual even held in the Western Highlands, which will be the highlight of our Papua New Guinea trip next August.

The show was first organized in 1964 by a number of tribes from the area. It was created with the mission of sharing cultural experiences and preventing tribal animosities by bringing all of the local cultural groups together in one event.

Attending the Mount Hagen Cultural Show is definitely a one of a kind experience. Locals sport their very best costumes and spectacular body paints. You’ll see headdresses made with bird of paradise feathers, necklaces adorned with shells and animal teeth, and skirts fashioned from grass and leaves.

Not many tourists attend this show, so you’ll have a chance to get close to the performers, and even meet them and shake their hands.

The Huli People of Papua New Guinea

Papua New Guinea Culture

With their striking red and ochre body paint, the traditional attire of the Huli people is the one of the most colorful in the country. The Huli have lived in the central part of Papua New Guinea for thousands of years, supporting themselves primarily through hunting and agriculture.

One of the peculiarities of Huli tradition is that they all believe themselves to be one person– the descendant of an ancestor named Huli ,who was the first to cultivate their ancestral land. Red and ochre clay (known as ambua) are considered sacred in Huli culture, setting the Huli warriors apart from those of neighboring tribal groups. The upper part of their face is painted red, and the lower part ochre.

Alongside the body paint, the real show-stopper features of Huli traditional costumes are their wigs. They’re so important in Huli culture that male members of the tribe are also known as “Wigmen.” The Huli obsession with wigs is related to their unique initiation rites: At the age of 14 or 15, Huli boys leave their families and are sent to live in a sort of “bachelor school” to learn their role in society.

The most important activity during this time is taking care of the boys’ hair, in order to produce ceremonial wigs. Their hair is wet three times a day with holy water, then sprinkled with fern leaves while chanting spells. Boys must refrain from eating fat and spicy foods so that their hair grows strong. As the hair grows, it’s gradually formed into a kind of mushroom shape by using a band of bamboo. The boys must sleep on their back with their head on a brick in order not to ruin the shape.

After approximately 18 months, the hair is shaved close and the hair is woven into a traditional Huli wig. The wig masters will add ornaments such as colored clay and bird of paradise or parrot feathers. There are wigs for everyday use and for ceremonies, for personal use and for sale. The most elaborate ones can fetch $600 or more.

After the boys’ first “haircut,” the process starts again. Some young men will produce up to five or six wigs before it’s time to marry. According to Huli beliefs, only the hair of unmarried boys and young men can be used for making wigs.