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What Should I Know About Papua New Guinea?

Papa New Guinea's geography includes rain forests.
Papua New Guinea gained independence from Australia in 1975.
Rugby is popular in Papua New Guinea.
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  • Written By: Niki Foster
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 25 September 2014
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The Independent State of Papua New Guinea is a country just northeast of Australia. It consists of the eastern half of the island of New Guinea, along with a group of offshore islands. The country was formerly two territories, Papua and New Guinea. They were combined in 1945, and the country gained peaceful independence from Australia in 1975.

Papua New Guinea is one of the most diverse nations in the world, with over 850 native languages and even more traditional societies, though the population is only about 6 million. The landscape is similarly diverse, and 82% of the population live in rural areas. The native population dates to at least 50,000 years ago and is thought to be of Southeast Asian origin.

While Papua New Guinea had some interaction with Southeast Asian and European traders before the 19th century, it was little known among Europeans until that period. In 1884, the country became two European colonies: German New Guinea in the north and British New Guinea — later called Papua — in the south.

Australia began administering Papua in 1915 and received a mandate to administer the northern colony, renamed New Guinea, after World War I. Papua and New Guinea were therefore both administered by Australia, but were separate political entities until 1945. Confusion caused by this situation continues to the present day, when some statutes only apply to half the country, despite its united identity.

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Papua New Guinea is a constitutional monarchy and a representative democracy. It is part of the Commonwealth of Nations, and the English monarch is the head of state. The Governor-General represents the head of state locally, and the Prime Minister is the head of government and holds executive power. It also has a unicameral Parliament and a Supreme Court. There are 19 provinces in the country, along with a separate National Capital District.

The economy is based on subsistence agriculture and the export of mineral deposits including gold, oil, and copper. The secession of Bougainville, formerly the richest province in the nation with its large copper mine, dealt a serious blow to the nation's economy. The revolt raged from 1988 to 1997.

The landscape of Papua New Guinea features mountains, rain forests, and wetlands. Volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, and tsunamis are common. The country has been minimally explored, and it is believed that many unknown plant and animal species live on the islands.

There are three official languages of Papua New Guinea: English and two creoles, Tok Pisin and Hiri Motu. Tok Pisin serves as a lingua franca in most of the country. About 96% of the population identified as Christian in the 2000 census, but many people include indigenous practices in their religion. Culture and traditional religions in the country are as diverse as languages. Sports, particularly rugby, are given great importance in Papua New Guinea's national culture.

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