Cannibalism, witchcraft, lawlessness, poverty; why would anyone in their right mind want to live in Papua New Guinea (PNG)? When I started exploring the possibility of moving to PNG I was amazed at the amount of negative, sensational, and scaremongering articles I discovered. I also found people’s perceptions to be particularly skewed – this seemed all the more puzzling as the majority didn’t know where this mysterious country is located. But where were all the features about undiscovered species and unexplored tribal groups?
With the capital Port Moresby being dubbed as one of the most dangerous cities in the world, Australia dumping its illegal immigrants on an outlying island, a recent case of a women being burnt alive accused of being a witch, and a high profile report of an American botanist being gang raped; it seemed quite clear why the more people I spoke to about my imminent move the more often I heard the words brave, strong, and courageous. No longer could I look at a map and ponder over the pristinely straight line drawn down its centre. The lure of one of the most ecologically and culturally diverse nations meant my bags were packed and I was on my way to experience this myth-bound country for myself. Some people might think I’m crazy but perhaps it’s better not to believe the hype.
What has become plainly clear since arriving in PNG is that this is indeed a country with many challenges; poor education, tribal prejudice, a major skills shortage, gender inequality, a lack of work ethic, and major health issues. This is a poor country. Much of the population lives in the bush with no electricity and no clean water, and getting to major towns can take many hours, and in some cases days, on desperately poor roads. To put this into context the cost of sex from a prostitute is
K5, that’s £1.66.
However it is also evident that the people are friendly, have incredible cultural heritage, and show strength in the face of adversity. It is important not to forget that in the densely populated highlands communities, hundreds of years of development has been crammed into two generations since white people discovered people living in the bush. From a primitive existence with stone axes to aeroplanes – quite a culture shock.
The landscape here is awe-inspiring. From the tranquil coastal islands, to the dense tropical rainforest, to the lush and atmospheric highlands – it can take your breath away at every turn. The sea is brimming with multi-coloured coral and fish, and the jungle full of creatures yet to be discovered. It is an anthropologist’s fantasy with countless tribal groups and languages spoken by just a handful of people. This mega-diverse country is a sensational biological frontier full of excitement and discovery and within the darkness there is more than a beacon of hope.
During the course of my journey in the land that time forgot I intend to redress the balance, focusing on the positive and not just the negative. I hope to provide balance and context. There are strong provincial groups providing incredible support for people living with HIV and AIDS in the community, women are excelling in professional jobs, local fishing villages are embracing new technology to provide sustainable fishing solutions to generate income – you just need to look past the stereotype of the painted tribal faces and the bettle nut stained teeth.
So yes, without question there are challenges but I haven’t been eaten yet and I haven’t been burnt at the stake for being a witch (thankfully the blue hair has stayed concealed in a warm brown coating). Despite the difficulties the Papua New Guineans face, even in my short time here I have seen no end of positives and I’ve only just scratched the surface…