New Hanover Culture

Traditions and Culture

Papua New Guinea is one of the most culturally diverse countries in the world with over 850 different indigenous peoples and between 820 – 850 distinct languages spoken in a population of approximately 6.6 million. Only 14% of Papua New Guineans live in urban centers, the remaining 86% of the population is almost exclusively employed in semi-subsistence agriculture and small, local trading networks.

The Constitution of Papua New Guinea specifically refers to and recognizes the importance of supporting the continuation of such social arrangements, providing “recognition that the cultural, commercial and ethnic diversity of our people is a positive strength” and calling for “traditional villages and communities to remain as viable units of Papua New Guinean society” As part of this, Papua New Guinea recognizes customary land tenure as a corner stone of such social arrangements.

New Hanover has been an inhabited island for over 4000 years. It is has a rich tapestry of traditions that spread throughout New Hanover and New Ireland. At Canopy Watch we were fortunate to attend the traditional chiefdom ceremony of John Aini linking the three most important cultural traditions of the Islands Maimai, Passingan and Tumbuan. This linking of traditions had not happened for over 80 years and was seem like an important step in the face of the cultural crisis that was set in motion by the Special Agricultural Business Leases. This involved ceremony lasted over three days and is based on tribute and sharing with over 90 pigs brought to the feast that was redistributed back to the community as is custom. In much, the same way as ownership of resources is shared at this ceremony land as a resource is shared. The relationship or understanding of property is a different concept in Papua New Guinea. The stripping away of this customarily understood land title had caught community by often complete surprise.