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.
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
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.
life at Tari was abundant and a good area for a variety of birds of
paradise, bowerbirds, parrots, flycatchers and pigeons.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 decided to visit PNG at that time. The PNG tourist promotional slogan,
which states “Tomorrow it won’t be the same”, is very appropriate.
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.
1992, I have often considered a second visit and still hope that one day I
will achieve this desire.