Island in the southwest Pacific, north of Australia, comprising Papua New Guinea and the Indonesian province of Irian Jaya; total area about 885,780 sq km/342,000 sq mi. Part of the Dutch East Indies from 1828, West Irian was ceded by the United Nations to Indonesia in 1963 and renamed Irian Jaya (‘victorious Irian’) in 1973.
History New Guinea was named by the Portuguese in 1546. The Dutch occupied parts of the west in the 18th century, and established a fort and trading post – and claimed sovereignty – in 1828. The trading post was evacuated in 1836, but sovereignty was claimed again in 1848. In 1884 the area of Papua on the southeast coast was proclaimed a protectorate by the British, and in the same year Germany took possession of the northeast quarter of New Guinea. Under Australian control 1914–21, the former German area was administered as a British mandate until Papua and New Guinea were gradually integrated between 1945 and 1949. The island was occupied by the Japanese in World War II. The Dutch retained control over the western half of the island (West Irian) after Indonesia gained its independence in 1949, but were eventually forced to transfer administrative responsibility to Indonesia in 1963. Papua and New Guinea jointly gained full independence as Papua New Guinea in 1975.
In the late 20th century tensions between Papua New Guinea and Indonesia has heightened as a result of a growing number of border incidents involving Indonesian troops and Irianese separatist guerrillas. At the same time large numbers of refugees have fled eastwards into Papua New Guinea from Irian Jaya. Its tropical rainforest and the 0.5 million hunter-gatherers who inhabit it are under threat from logging companies and resettlement schemes.
Topography New Guinea is separated from Australia by the Torres Strait. It comprises a broad central mass from which protrude peninsulas to the west (Vogelkop) and southeast. Prominent features are the Gulf of Papua (southeast) and Geelvink or Irian Bay (northwest). A series of mountain ranges run the length of the island (2,414 km/1,500 mi): Nassau (highest peak Mount Sukarno or Carstensz, 5,000m/16,400 ft) and Orange Ranges in the west, Bismarck Mountains and Owen Stanley Range in the east. Chief rivers are the Fly, Sepik, Mamberano, and Digul.
Climate Humid in coastal areas, but moderate in the highlands, with heavy rainfall except in the port Moresby area.
Agriculture Products include copra, rubber, coffee, sisal, and kapok.
Natural resources Mineral resources are gold and oil.
Plants and animals Dense rainforest produces, among other things, sago, coconut, and nipa palms, ebony, sandalwood, rubber, casuarina, and cedar. The rainforests are home to a large range of plants and animals, many of which are endemic, including the Queen Alexandra's birdwing butterfly (the world's largest with a wingspan of 25 cm/10 in) and many species of birds of paradise. Small kangaroos show the island's Australian links. There are mangrove swamps along many parts of the coast.
Population The native peoples are Melanesian, some in the highlands being pygmies.
traditional customs, Papua New Guinea
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