Highland Papua New Guinea
- PNG is divided into four regions (Highlands, Islands, Momase and Papua
Regions) and these into a total of 20 Provinces
- the
Highland Region is composed of five provinces:
Area in km2
Simbu (2 on map)
6 100
259 703
Eastern Highlands (3)
11 200
432 972
Enga (6)
12 800
Southern Highlands (15)
23 800
Western Highlands (17)
8 500
440 025
1 973 996 (out of 5,670,544)
* According to the census in 2000. Note: the census is said to be unreliable and there is considerable variation between different sources
Basic geographical facts:
- The Highland region is composed of a long string of valleys separated by mountains
- Highest regions receive snowfall, which is unsual in the tropics
- the highest mountain is Mt. Wilhelm (4 509 metres, located at the intersection of Simbu,
Western Highland and Madang provinces)
- Enga is the highest province with altitudes of about 2000 metres
- Major rivers:
- Enga valleys form the watershed for two river
systems, the Lagaiap and the Lai, which are
tributaries of the major rivers Fly and Sepik
- Putari river (flows through Mendi (capital of
Southern Highlands pr.) )
- Strickland (flows from Wabag (capital of
Enga) into the Fly river)
Basic geographical facts: urban centres
Kundiawa (capital of Simbu): population about 5000
Goroka (capital of Eastern Highlands): population about 25 000
home of several national institutes, for example The University of Goroka and the
PNG Instute of Medical Research
Wabag (capital of Enga): population about 3 300
Mendi (capital of Southern Highlands): n/a
Mount Hagen (capital of Western Highlands): population about 40 000
third largest city in PNG
Demographic facts:
Papua New Guinea is ethnically and linguistically a very diverse country
Over 850 indigenious languages are spoken and there are at least as many
traditional societies, with only about 7000 speakers per language on the avarage
- note: only Vanuatu has a higher language density
This applies also for the Highlands region
Major languages:
Tok pisin: creole language and the lingua franca of PNG
Enga: both a linguistic and ethnic group
- Enga is a unique case in the PNG, since it is the only major group in the province
- other minor ethnic groups in the Enga province are the Ipili and Nete speakers
Other languages and ethnic groups:
Melpa (Western HL), Huli (Southern HL), Wiru (Southern HL), Kuman (Simbu)*,
*Trivia: The term "Simbu" comes from the Kuman language and mean roughly translated: "Thank
oldest human remains found in PNG are ca. 50 000 years old and the
colonisation is assumed to have happened some 60 000 years ago
agriculture invented independently ca. 9 000 years ago
traces of drainage ditches found at the sc. Kuk site in the interior Highlands
possibly for cultivating taro (Colocasia esculenta)
skilled techniques of agriculture: adapted to high population density, hilly terrain,
frost, heavy rain and earthquakes
- indigenous crops: sugarcane, Pacific bananas, yams, taro, sago and pandanus
- followed later by the sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas) in the 17th century
tropical horticulture or permaculture
deliberate planting of a native ironwood tree (Casuarina oligodon)
sweet potato
History: colonial adventures
first Europeans to come to PNG were Spanish or Portuguese navigators in
the 16th century
formal colonisation by the British in various stages from 1883 and
placement under the Australian Commonwealth in 1902
Germany colonised the northeast quarter of the island in 1884, during WWI
Australia occupied it and held it until 1921
under Australian administration until independence in 1975, with the
exception of WWII during which the island was occupied by the Japanese
however: the Highlands remained largely unexplored up until the 1930's
1933 Leahy brothers find the Wahgi valley in Western Highlands
Economy: agriculture
agriculture supports the majority of the Highlands population (80-85% of the whole
population of PNG)
subsistence farming, i.e. farmers produce enough for themselves to subsist, but not
products for the market
pig-keeping important, both economically and culturally
exchange of pigs in compensation and bridewealth payments and in large festivals, such as
the Melpa moka or the Enga tee
today also cash-cropping, the most
important cash crops being coffee and tea
Economy: mining
PNG is very rich in natural resources, especially minerals
these, most notably oil, gold and copper account for 72% of the export earnings
and 26.3 % of the GDP
remember: first Europeans in the Highlands were gold prospectors
besides of being a major contributor to the GDP, mining is also a big source
of both environmental and social problems
case: Porgera mine in the Enga province
- operated since 1990 by a group of companies called Porgera Joint Venture
- release of (treated) waste directly into the Lagaip river system (which flows into
Strickland river)
- the waste has according to environmental organisations negative effects on fish stocks,
water plants and community health on large area along the rivers
- deaths in the mine area have lead the local landowners to call for the closure of the
mine in 2005 until deaths are properly investigated
Porgera mine
B&W photos (c) Jerry Jacka
Further reading:
Classics, ceremonial exchange & warfare:
Meggit, Mervyn,1969: Pigs, Pearlshells and Women: Marriage in the New Guinea
Highlands. Englewood Cliffs (NJ): Prentice Hall
Meggit, Mervyn, 1977: Blood is Their Argument: Warfare among the Mae Enga
Tribesmen of the New Guinea Highlands. Mountain View (CA): Mayfield
Strathern, Andrew, 1971: The Rope of Moka: Big-men and Ceremonial Exchange in
Mount Hagen, New Guinea. Cambridge: Cambridge UP
Strathern, Andrew & Strathern, Marilyn, 1971: Self-Decoration in Mount Hagen. Toronto
London: University of Toronto Press
Environment and current issues:
Diamond, Jared, 2005: Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. New York:
Strathern, A. & Stewart, P., 2000: Arrow Talk: Transaction, Transition and Contradiction in
New Guinea Highlands Society. Kent (OH): Kent UP
West, Paige: "Environmental Conservation and Mining: Between Experience and
Expectation in the Eastern Highlands of Papua New Guinea", The Contemporary
Pacific 18.2 (2006) 295-313

Highland Papua New Guinea