Today A Short History Papua New Guinea Timeline 1975

A Brief History Papua New Guinea Timeline

Colonization 50,000 years ago of Papua New Guinea – then forming with Australia the continent of Sahul – from the southeast of the island, after crossing the Arafura plain now under water. This is followed by a dispersion towards the Highlands and the valleys of altitudes (>1500 m) by going up the main rivers (Fly, Purari) and their tributaries. brief history of Papua New Guinea.

History Papua New Guinea Timeline 
History Papua New Guinea Timeline

This scenario therefore excludes a west-east dispersion following the central cordillera, sometimes evoked. Two main groups of settlers have been identified by the distinct genetic trace they left in Papuan populations. However, their cultural and technical specificity cannot yet be understood on the basis of the available archaeological data. Papua New Guinea. 

History on Papua New Guinea

Capital of Papua New Guinea: Port Moresby

Papua New Guinea Language:  Tok Pisin

Papua New Guinea Area:  462,840 km2

History of Papua New Guinea Timeline

The first settlements of Papua New Guinea Timeline

Ancient inhabitants are believed to have arrived in Papua New Guinea about 50,000-60,000 years ago from Southeast Asia during an Ice Age period when the sea was lower and distances between islands was shorter. New Guinea (as it used to be known), one of the first landmasses after Africa and Eurasia to be populated by modern humans, had its first migration at about the same time as Australia, placing us alongside one of the oldest continuous cultures on the planet. Papua New Guinea

About 40,000 years ago, people from Southeast Asia braved inlets on makeshift boats, probably more than 80 km wide, to colonize New Guinea and Australia, at the time one and the same island. Five or ten thousand years later, they occupied the highlands of New Guinea and the Bismarck and Solomon Islands, once again crossing inlets of several tens of kilometers. Of these Negroid populations, only small pockets remain in Asia, on the Andaman Islands in Myanmar, for example, the current Asian population having “replaced” them. The feat of these early “settlers” can be measured by the fact that they were not joined by other waves of migration until 30,000 years later. Papua New Guinea.

This long isolation is reflected today in the Papuan languages, developed by their descendants, impossible to bring closer to another linguistic family. In addition, the obvious physical, cultural and linguistic differences between Australia’s Aboriginal populations and Papuans can also be explained by the long isolation caused more than 10,000 years ago by the rising waters that flooded the Torres Strait and separated Australia from New Guinea. These first arrivals were probably hunter-gatherers, of which there are ultimately few traces. Papua New Guinea.

It was their descendants who, among the first in the world, invented, about 9,000 years ago, agriculture and irrigation systems in the regions of the New Guinean highlands, located between 1,200 and 2,800 m above sea level. Archaeologists have indeed found complex systems of drainage ditches as well as remains of terraced crops. Papua New Guinea.

It is now estimated that the general deforestation of the highland valleys occurred about 6,000 years ago, the date of an agricultural “boom” in the country, following agricultural processes very similar to those discovered by the explorers of the XXe century arriving on the highlands… These farmers had discovered alone, without anyone to hold them and without anyone to transmit them to, techniques that made it possible to grow taro, yam, banana, sugar cane … All plants that remain today of a high symbolic value in traditional exchanges. The sweet potato, today the main food of the highlands, would have appeared only much later, at least 400 years ago, probably causing a population explosion. Papua New Guinea.

It appears that while the inhabitants of the mountains quickly developed an elaborate agriculture, the inhabitants of the swampy areas of the lowlands remained hunter-gatherers, taking advantage of the tremendous yield of the sago tree and the many possibilities offered by this environment. The inhabitants of the coasts, on the other hand, specialized in fishing.

Much later, between 3,600 and 1,500 years before our era, according to scientists, a second wave of migration came to populate New Guinea, this time confined to the coastal regions. But these newcomers brought with them animals that would upset the region as a whole: dogs, chickens and pigs. This was followed by several centuries of isolation, during which the people of New Guinea did not have access to inventions that changed the rest of the world and remained far from wars, trade routes or conquests.

Papua New Guinea
Papua New Guinea

The First European Contacts

In the XVIe Century, while New Guinea had only episodic coastal contacts with Malay sailors who bought feathers from paradise trees or boats from the Moluccas in search of slaves, Europe increasingly extended its conquests. The boats of the “old continent” crisscross the seas of the whole world, in search of spices and, of course, gold. During one of these explorations, the first Portuguese governor of the Maluku Islands, Dom Jorge de Meneses, accidentally approached the big island in 1526. Papua New Guinea.

He made a first contact with a coastal village and named the unknown island ” ilhas dos Papuas “. Opinions differ as to the origin of this name, some arguing that it would be a derivation of a Malay word meaning ” frizzy ” and others that it would come from ” sup i papwa ” designating in the Maluku language the lands located in the east of the archipelago. Following this first contact, rumors spread throughout Europe that an unknown land covered in gold was waiting to be explored and conquered. Papua New Guinea.

The following meetings between Papuans and Europeans were therefore made by Spaniards in search of the precious metal. De Retes, a Spaniard, described the Papuans in 1645 as “black, ugly and bellicose” beings and named the island, where no trace of gold has been found, ” Nueva Guinea “, New Guinea, because its inhabitants remind it of those of African Guinea. Papua New Guinea.

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Apart from a few meager attempts at evangelization, things remained there, until 1660, when the Dutch, already masters of the Indonesian archipelago, obtained from the Sultan of the Moluccas the exclusive right to trade in New Guinea. They can then export, to Europe and elsewhere, quantities of feathers of paradise trees that have become fashionable in the West, all kinds of bark and medicinal or aromatic plants, but also slaves…

Scientific Expeditions

In the XVIIIe In the century, interest in these distant lands was reborn in Europe. The motivations seem this time more noble and above all scientific. In 1699, an Englishman, William Dampier, a science-loving pirate, explored the coasts of New Britain, where he collected many botanical samples and some ethnographic information, although his main contact with the natives was to open fire on them. He will finally discover the strait separating New Guinea from New Britain (an island he himself named) which will then bear his name. Papua New Guinea. 

In 1767, it was William Carteret’s turn to land in New Ireland, a discovery always accompanied by warlike relations with the natives. The following year, a Frenchman, Louis Antoine de Bougainville, discovered the island that now bears his name. The end of the XVIIIe However, the century was marked by a revival of economic interest, with the English exploiting the resources of spades and other rare marine products. In the XIXe Finally, scientists are really interested in Papuans and their environment. Dumont d’Urville for France, at the controls of his famous boat the Astrolabe, multiplies, between 1823 and 1838, contacts and stays on the island, gathering an enormous documentation and developing serious theories on the local populations.

In 1871, it is a Russian a little crazy who landed in the bay of Estaing and lived close to the natives for several months. Finally, between 1871 and 1878, the Italian D’Alberti made several explorations, until going up the 900 km of the Fly River, to discover the central mountain range. Papua New Guinea.


We have to wait until the middle of the XIXe century to see Europeans settle permanently on the coasts of New Guinea and the surrounding islands. After some unsuccessful attempts in previous centuries, the missionaries wanted to evangelize the Papuans and came with the settlers of the powers interested in the region. These are the Dutch, the English, concerned by nearby Australia, and finally the Germans, who seek to create a colonial empire.

The latter opened copra plantations in the Bismarck archipelago and Bougainville. But the real issue remains gold… Under the guise of scientific explorations, travelers make long stays of several months in search of the precious metal. Then, the three powers divided New Guinea, without yet knowing that the interior of the island was populated. The Dutch have long occupied the western part of the island, in the continuity of their occupation of Indonesia. In 1883, the Australian colony of Queensland annexed the southeastern part of the island, and finally, in 1884, the Germans claimed the northeastern part, the Bismarck Islands and the Solomon Islands. A treaty signed in 1886 set the boundaries and prerogatives of each.

In the meantime, explorations continue. But for all these Europeans, living conditions remain precarious on swampy coasts infested with malaria-carrying mosquitoes. This disease literally decimated settlers and missionaries, causing them to abandon many places and preventing any excursions into the interior of the lands, which the whole world still believes to be uninhabited. Papua New Guinea. 


It is difficult to evoke the life of Papuans during this period. Not knowing how to write or photograph, they left no testimony about this period. And the Westerners did not care about them, convinced only, at best, that they were taking them out of a condition of savages ignorant of everything and living in sin. One thing is obvious: it was a difficult time for the natives. Unable to resist this invasion that never said its name, they had no choice, except through a few skirmishes, to accept the law of the newcomers. Papua New Guinea.

A sentence, pronounced by a Frenchman, the governor of New Caledonia, M. Du Bouzet, in January 1855, summed up the state of mind of the time: “When a maritime power makes itself sovereign of a land not yet occupied by a civilized nation and owned only by savage tribes … , chiefs and natives … have never had or cannot have the right to dispose of all or part of the land occupied by them in common or as special property. The Government reserves exclusively the right to purchase land occupied by indigenous people and ownership of all unoccupied land.” This people, whose entire culture has always been based on tribal land ownership, is therefore deprived of it.

He is no longer master of his own lands. Between the 1850s and 1900s, a practice very close to slavery emerged: “black birding”, which consists of embarking men raided in villages – or deceived about their future – to make them work on distant plantations, mainly in Australian Queensland and Fiji. Those who remained were recruited for forced labor, to build roads, work on local plantations, or serve settlers. The Papuans were therefore no longer masters of their bodies. Papua New Guinea.

Finally, the missionaries came to take care of their souls… If the methods seem less brutal, the result was still violent. The missionaries used the simplest method let’s compare what your gods gave you and what ours offered to Westerners… The observation was obvious. On the one hand, not much; on the other, firearms, clothes, food galore, metal… Anything that gave power to whites. Conversions multiplied rapidly, and the time was not at the respect of the customs of each, the Papuans had to abandon very quickly everything that made their life of yesteryear: cults, adornments, ceremonies. In places where art was important, everything was burned in large autodafés. The Papuans were therefore no longer masters of their souls either. Papua New Guinea. 

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The first cults of the cargo ship

Humiliated, sounded by all the upheavals in their beliefs and ways of life, the Papuans developed a strange belief, called the ” cult of the cargo ship “. Although varying from place to place and with the times, these cults can be summarized as follows: unable to imagine the origin of all the riches of the whites (axes, guns, canned food, medicines, etc.) Papuans think that everything is sent by this God whose missionaries teach them the existence. And pushing their idea further, they convince themselves that these goods (” cargo ” in English) are actually intended for them, but that the whites have cut off the contact between the Papuans and God, diverting this cargo to their advantage. Papua New Guinea.

It is therefore important for Oceanians to regain direct contact with God to find what is due to them. Several cults regarded Jesus as a Papuan and saw missionaries as liars. Many dubious characters took on the role of “messiahs” and managed to convince followers that they could bring the cargo ship back to its rightful owners. Of course, these cults often hid independence aspirations, more or less assertive and were systematically opposed and repressed by the colonial authorities. These beliefs were perpetrated in various forms and still resurface today from time to time. On this theme, we can read Peter Lawrence’s excellent book, The Cult of the Cargo Ship.

The discovery of a forgotten world
Papua New Guinea World Map
Papua New Guinea World Map

When the First World War broke out, Australia became independent and replaced England in what was then called the ” Papuan Territory “, which thus covered the south-eastern quarter of the island. The Australians have established a “government by patrol” which consists of creating a Papuan police force that patrols throughout the territory. The Germans, for their part, are just beginning to make all their efforts and sacrifices profitable. But as soon as the war was announced in 1914, the Australians occupied the Germanic colonies. Papua New Guinea.

In 1920, the League of Nations gave Australia a mandate to take care of all that is now Papua New Guinea, with Holland retaining control of the west of the main island. The part taken from the Germans, the northeastern quarter of New Guinea, was then called the “Territory of New Guinea”. In 1926, gold deposits finally appeared in the Bulolo region, near Lae. Hundreds of adventurers flock there. Two Australians, the Leahy brothers, recruit a few guides and porters and set off to discover the great inland mountain ranges. Papua New Guinea.

Convinced to find only mountains covered with jungle, they cross the first curtains of the Bismarck Mountains and discover with amazement large valleys dotted with gardens and villages! A million humans live there, forgotten by the world. These Papuans, unlike those on the coast, have never had contact with the outside. If they are excellent gardeners, they know neither iron, nor wheel, nor pottery. In the absence of gold, the Leahy brothers enter history by discovering a civilization… Their stories, their photos and especially their film First contact which traces their encounters, will pave the way for the myth of the “survivors of the Stone Age”. Papua New Guinea.

Once the news was known, missionaries, adventurers and officers of Government Patrols (the Kiaps) swept into the highlands. This time, the whole island is opening up to Westerners. The discoveries followed one another until the 1960s, the Australian administration meticulously crisscrossing the ground. Quickly, the Papuans are projected into the XXe century. The Second World War will further accelerate the movement. Papua New Guinea.

The war in Papua

Projected in the XXe Century, the Papuans are also projected into the war. In 1942, less than a month after Pearl Harbor, the Japanese invaded Rabaul in New Britain, then quickly landed on the entire north coast of the territory: Lae, Madang and Wewak were taken, New Ireland was occupied, Alotau attacked. From Popondetta, the Japanese wanted to march on Port Moresby and thus directly threaten Australia. The Australians counterattacked from Port Moresby following a path now called the Kokoda Track. What will then be a fierce and deadly battle, marks a turning point in the war.

The Australians, at the cost of enormous sacrifices, inflicted their first land defeat on the Japanese and forced them to retreat north. From September, the Allies gradually regained a foothold on the coast, but the Japanese did not surrender until 1945. Again, the Papuans have not mastered anything. Initially rather neutral, even benevolent towards the Japanese who drove out the Europeans, they quickly understood what hell they had fallen into. Enslaved, forced to fight, the villagers preferred to hide in the jungle, some for the duration of the war. Papua New Guinea.

On the Allied side, again, many Papuans were enlisted as porters, scouts, stretcher bearers or soldiers, without understanding what it was all about. No one took care to count the Papuan dead in this war… For highland Papuans, the war consisted mainly of hearing and seeing for the first-time planes flying over their villages… But the presence of the army and thousands of Australians on Papuan soil and the technical progress linked to the war completed the colonization and “discovery” of all papua. Papua New Guinea.


After the war, the “territories of Papua” experienced intense economic growth. The number of Australian expatriates is increasing tenfold and they are investing in all areas. Business is going well and the country is developing. Yet there are still major problems of racial segregation, access to power and self-determination for Papuans. Despite this, they do not seem in a hurry to gain their independence. The vast majority still live in the bush and the Australian presence is ultimately light to them. But at the international level, in the 1960s, the fashion was for decolonization and Australia, a former colony, refused the status of colonizer.

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The territories are only under his mandate. In the 1960s, the UN asked Australia to push Papuans itself towards independence. Some students, led by Michael Somare, a young man from sepik province, led a very peaceful “fight” in this direction, and in 1964 they quickly obtained an indigenous parliament with limited powers. Then, in 1973, a local government was created, before independence was effective on September 16, 1975. Unprepared for democracy, without really knowing what to do with the country, here are the autonomous Papuans and the state of Papua New Guinea created, with Port Moresby as its capital. The system chosen is modelled on that of Australia.

Papua will be a constitutional monarchy, a member of the Commonwealth, with Queen Elizabeth as head of state. Papua New Guinea. 

Troubled weather

Despite the many challenges facing the young nation (flight of Australians, extreme cultural diversity, lack of infrastructure, inexperience of its cadres, glaring inequalities in development), the country developed well until the end of the 1980s. Then, coinciding with the rise of mining, violence began to become endemic. Problems of wealth distribution are emerging, accompanied by a strong rural exodus. Above all, Papua is facing a separatist rebellion in Bougainville. Papua New Guinea.

This island, culturally and geographically closer to the Solomon Islands than to Papua, has a huge copper mine in Panguna. But the islanders, convinced that they had been wronged in the distribution of income from exploitation, created an independentist militia, the Bougainville Revolution Army, which went into open war with the government, unable to negotiate. Bougainville, hitherto considered to be an economic model and ahead of the rest of the country, plunged into chaos, with the rebels attacking both the inhabitants and the Papuan army. The island is completely closed and regresses sharply in terms of development, with any economic activity becoming impossible.

This conflict weighs heavily on finances. The peak of the crisis was reached in 1996, when the government secretly decided to pay mercenaries to defeat the revolt. But the case, known as “Sandline”, is exposed and the whole country is inflamed, refusing to pay foreigners to kill Papuans. Finally alerted, the international community meddles in the case and manages to make the protagonists sit around a table. A peace agreement was signed in April 1998, but Bougainville remained deeply marked and wounded by its nine years of war which left 20,000 dead. Papua New Guinea.

Other disasters will plunge the country further into the difficulties it is experiencing today. The country’s flagship, the city of Rabaul in New Britain, was completely destroyed by a volcanic eruption in 1994. In 1998, a tidal wave devastated the Aitape region, very close to the Indonesian border, killing at least 2,000 people. Papua New Guinea. 

The 2000s

The first decade of the XXIe Century will not leave an imperishable memory to the inhabitants of the country. After the abortion of attempts to “modernize” the economy, resulting in the privatization of land and public services, so fiercely opposed by the population, successive governments have preferred to stick to a cautious status quo. While the economy has been growing steadily in recent years, it does not benefit the population, as the vast majority of investments made in Papua are made by “predatory” industries, such as timber mining or mining. Over the years, Australia, which remains the country’s main economic partner and, above all, its main provider of financial aid, stands out. Papua New Guinea.

Michael Somare, twice elected prime minister in succession since 2002, frequently hides the meagre results of his economic policy behind anti-colonialist nationalism. The Papuans refused to allow a force of 200 Australian police officers to help organize and train Papuan police officers; in 2006, the Prime Minister himself helped a Fijian minister wanted by the Australian justice system to flee Papua… The latter case caused the suspension of diplomatic relations between the two countries for more than a year. But Papua’s geographical and political position prevents Australia from abandoning the country altogether. It is inconceivable for Australia to let chaos settle in its closest neighbor. Papua New Guinea.

At the end of 2009, despite the global economic crisis, Papua’s economy was boosted by huge foreign mining investments and the return of confidence from the various global banks. Papua New Guinea. 

A new era?
Papua New Guinea Culture
Papua New Guinea Culture

The promises of economic growth brought by Exxon Mobil’s LNG gas project, Total’s and the increase in oil drilling have actually proved disappointing. Across the country, you’ll hear Papuans complain about the unequal redistribution of royalties on raw materials. Corruption is pervasive, at the highest level as well as in everyday life. A large part of the population still lives on subsistence agriculture and has little income. Public services are abandoned. Especially since the earthquake of March 2018 did not help the situation in the Highlands. It is therefore not surprising that the provinces furthest from the capital are seeking more administrative autonomy, as for New Ireland, which will be autonomous in 2019.

However, the prospects for tourism development point to hope for Papuans, who will be able to derive a substantial income from an ever-increasing number of visitors. Let us now hope that the growth of tourism will be done with respect for customs and the environment. Papua New Guinea.

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