Tuesday, January 14, 2014

New Guinea

My neighbor mentioned that they have received a new missionary assignment to New Guinea, and I realized that I could not identify exactly where in the world New Guinea is located.

I found that the main island of New Guinea is located just north of Australia, southeast of the Philippines, and east of Malaysia.  It has been considered to be geographically within the grouping of numerous Pacific islands known as "Melanesia", or more generally part of the "Oceania" region.


New Guinea is the second-largest land mass categorized as an island, after Greenland.  The island is geologically of volcanic origin, and the land reflects this.  New Guinea lies within the recognized bounds of the Pacific "ring of fire" of volcanic activity.   Relatively nearby volcanic eruptions continue, in 2010 with activity in Java and current activity of Mount Sinabung in Sumatra.

The highest interior elevation reaches over 4800 meters, 16,000 feet.  The island is so large that it is considered 'nearly a continent' in terms of its biological distinctiveness.  The local ecology of New Guinea is generally characterized as "tropical rain forest".  Biodiversity on the main island and surrounding areas ranks as among the highest on Earth.  Google Maps view of New Guinea.

Papua New Guinea is in a malaria zone and travellers should take anti-malaria medication while visiting the country and for a period of time after returning home.


The island of New Guinea is politically divided down the middle, with a ruler-straight line following a history of German occupation in WWI, and subsequent Dutch and British domination.  The western part, Western Papua, is a member of the Republic of Indonesia since 1969.  Indonesia is currently governed with an elected president and a constitution.  Western Papua also has a local provincial government that consists of tribal elders.

The eastern portion of New Guinea and numerous associated islands comprise Papua New Guinea.  The government of Papua New Guinea is classified as a constitutional monarchy, with parliamentary democracy, reflecting British influence.  Papua New Guinea has been an independent government since 1975.


New Guinea population numbers over 7.5 million in a geographical area just greater than that of California, which gives it a very low relative population density.  Part of the long-term native inhabitants, known as "Papuans" appear to be indigenous from long before historic eras.  Anthropologists theorize that their ancestors settled New Guinea regions as much as 70,000 years ago.  More recent migrations, in the last few thousand years, from Asia and nearby Australia, constitute the "Austronesian" population.

Large areas of New Guinea interior have not been formally explored, and are believed to contain some of the last primitive indigenous people to be introduced to global society.  More than a dozen different ethnic groups constitute the indigenous tribes.  There have been recent accusations of government discrimination and persecution of New Guinea indigenous populations.  By some estimates more than 100,000 Papuans, one-sixth of the population, have died as a result of government-sponsored violence against West Papuans.

There are occasional reports in the media about New Guinea natives being charged with practicing cannibalism, but I am skeptical.  This may be just the product of a government campaign to stir up prejudice against the native tribes.


The capitol of the Indonesia side of New Guinea is Jayapura City.   It is located just west of the political dividing line on the north.  The population of Jayapura is approximately 200,000.

The capitol city of Papua New Guinea is Port Moresby, located on the eastern peninsula, with a population of over 300,000.  It is the largest population center on the island.  Port Moresby climate is similar to most of the island, with high temperatures averaging around 90 and lows in the 80s year round.  Annual rainfall averages 40", much of it falling in the period from December through April.

All parts of Port Moresby reportedly have serious security problems with violent attacks from criminals, causing fences and walls to be considered necessary around houses and apartment buildings and security guards to be widely employed.

The nearest large population center is Brisbane, Australia - about 1300 air miles from Port Moresby.

Language Issues

By one count, there are 1,319 languages in Melanesia, scattered across a small amount of land. The proportion of 716 sq. kilometers per language is by far the most dense rate of languages in relation to land mass in the earth, almost three times as dense as in Nigeria, a country famous for its high number of languages in a compact area.

Provided with the number of native speakers, languages which appear to be primary spoken by LDS membership in Western Province include Southern Kiwai (9,700) in the Daru area, Suki (3,510) in the Suki area, and Bamu (6,310) in the Sogere area.  Some members may also speak Gogodala (22,000) in the Sogere area and Mubami (1,730) in the Kamusi area.  LDS congregations provide excellent outreach to Bamu- and Suki-speakers as most speakers of these languages reside within close proximity to LDS congregations in Sogere and Suki.  Estimated literacy rates are very low in Western Province.  Literacy rates among languages spoken in areas with LDS congregations range from 5-25%.  Many indigenous languages have extremely few written resources and most only have portions of the Bible translated.  There are no LDS materials available in languages native to the region.  Translating basic church materials into local languages is not feasible at present as most languages have fewer than 10,000 speakers, only a small minority of the population is literate, and very few members appear capable of translating church materials into local languages.

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