Papua New Guinea
[ Issue 26 ]

Papua New Guinea intrigues Emily Bronto

Permit Bikwil to acquaint you with the fascination of Papua New Guines

Papua New Guinea

Giorni introduces us to the native lifestyle, the flora and the fauna of Papua New Guinea — Niugini.

The skins were collected from natives by white explorers, however, all the skins collected were minus legs.

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Papua New Guinea (Niugini) — Giorni

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Back in 1992 I spent a week in Papua New Guinea on a trekking adventure tour, which gave me the opportunity to witness typical native lifestyle and observe the flora and fauna of this intriguing country.

I stayed 4 days in Tari (central highlands, altitude of 8000 feet) and 3 days in Karawari along the Sepik River (sea level). The contrast in people, climate, bird life and terrain was remarkable.

At Tari the weather was warm during the day and pleasantly cool at night. I was there in May, which is the start of the dry season - we had a few brief afternoon showers lasting about an hour.

The bird life at Tari was abundant and a good area for a variety of birds of paradise, bowerbirds, parrots, flycatchers and pigeons.

I was fortunate in seeing ten different species of birds of paradise. Birds of paradise are so named not because of their splendid plumage but because of the condition of the first specimens which were sent back to England. The skins were collected from natives by white explorers, however all the skins collected were minus legs. The early naturalists therefore assumed that the birds had no legs and never landed on earth, thus spending their entire life flying in the heavens.

The individual names given to the various species are also very exotic, such as King of Saxony, Raggiana (PNG’s emblem), Ribbon-tailed Astrapia, Stephanie’s Astrapia, Short-tailed Paradigalla, and Lawe’s Six-wired Bird of Paradise. Each one more outrageous than the next.

The males have the spectacular plumage, which is designed to attract the attention of the rather drab females. Unfortunately, the brilliant plumes also attract human hunters. The plumes were collected for the millinery trade up until the 1950’s. This practice ended but the local natives still hunt the birds for their own headdress adornment.

During my visit many of the local men in and around Tari could still be seen wearing various plumes of these beautiful birds. The Raggiana and Superb Blue species in particular were both highly prized. The more plumes in a man’s headdress the more virile he was supposed to be and in theory would attract the admiration of the ladies in the village. Very similar behaviour to the birds.

The people in the highlands have a hard life and take things pretty seriously but I found them to be very friendly and curious towards visitors. These people, from the Huli tribe, were only discovered by westerners in the late 1930’s and most still live in a very primitive fashion. When we landed at Tari airstrip it was like stepping back to the Stone Age. Unforgettable.

Leaving Tari we flew to the Sepik region. The climate in the lowlands was more typical of the tropics. Being almost at sea level the weather was very hot and humid. The temperature didn’t drop more than 2 degrees during the night making sleep very difficult.

The people living along the river seemed more relaxed, I think their lifestyle was not as harsh as their Highland cousins. They have also had longer contact with Western society and the children have a higher standard of education. Many of the children are being taught English while some Tari folk could only speak basic pidgin.

The bird life was also different compared to Tari. Here I saw no birds of paradise – they seem to prefer the higher altitudes. The birds I found in the lowlands were more familiar to me, some of the species I had seen previously in North Queensland, such as Eclectus Parrot, Red-cheeked Parrot and Helmeted Friarbird.

I’m glad I decided to visit PNG at that time. The PNG tourist promotional slogan, which states “Tomorrow it won’t be the same”, is very appropriate.

PNG is changing, of course: the younger people are moving away from the traditional way of life and heading for the large towns and cities looking for work. This is the major cause of the problems being experienced today in places like Port Moresby and Mt Hagen, where the crime rate is out of control and Rascal gangs create serious problems.

Since 1992, I have often considered a second visit and still hope that one day I will achieve this desire.

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