Papua New Guinea

Last updated: 1/17/2019

Papua New Guinea (PNG) is located north of Australia and occupies half of the island of New Guinea. Twelve percent of the known language groups on the planet reside in the remote, mountainous terrain of PNG.



The first step of your journey to PNG involves calculating the financial cost. It is impossible to nail down exact costs, since they are subject to change. However, the information in this document is as current and accurate as we are able to make it.

International Flights

Volunteers should be aware that international flights to and from PNG are expensive. PNG is located 8000 miles away from the United States, and your destination locations will likely be remote, which adds to the cost. For local flights within PNG - Air Nuigini has the most consistent flights. 

In-Country Expenses

For MAST events, event food and lodging are typically billed back to your ministry account. Other than souvenirs and meals and snacks during transit, the major expenses in PNG that you would need cash for are any hotels and taxis if overnight stays are required in Port Moresby or the destination airport between flight connections. Your WA manager in PNG can work with you on your itinerary and discuss lodging recommendations for any extra nights that transit requires.

There are a few ATM’s in the coastal cities of PNG, but none in the highlands. For local expenses, volunteers should bring $100-$200 in cash (US bills in good condition) which can be changed into the local currency upon arrival in PNG. There are also ample ATMs at International Arrivals in Port Moresby to withdraw funds into Kina. $100 US equals roughly 300 Kina. 

Visitor Visa - Staying Less Than 60 days

Visitor visas can be obtained at the airport in Port Moresby at no charge.  Make sure that your passport expiration date is at least six months after you return from your trip, and you have at least two blank pages - the visa takes a full page! When arriving, stay to the right, walk past the visa on arrival payment booth and go straight to the visa on arrival line. 

Visa - Staying More Than 60 Days

A visa is required for entrance to PNG. Visa requirements vary depending on the amount of time you will spend in Papua New Guinea.  Your WA manager in PNG can give you more details.  A valid US passport is also required—not only for PNG, but for reentry into the US, and also for possible transit through Australia. Make sure that your passport expiration date is at least six months after you return from your trip!

Worker Aide/Volunteer Visa - longer than 3 months

Volunteering longer than three months requires a Worker Aide/Volunteer Visa along with a work permit.

Transit Visa through Australia

It is important that you get or have your travel agent get, an Australian visa for you. It does not matter how long or short of a time you intend to be in the transit lounge waiting for your next plane in Australia. If your plane coming into Australia is delayed and you miss your connecting flight you could be in trouble. Some of the large Australian airports close overnight forcing people to leave the airport. If caught in this situation with no visa for entering the country, the government representatives at the airport will put you on the next plane going back to your home country. They find out this information immediately upon your arrival because as soon as you enter the transit lounge you have to check in for your next flight at the customer service desk.  Transit visas for Australia can be obtained online at A one year, multiple entry ETA (electronic travel authorization) costs $20 AUS - $16 USD (subject to change). 


While many US carriers have international cell phone plans that allows international roaming, it is typically much more economical to have an unlocked phone and get a PNG SIM card upon arrival in Port Moresby. You can get a free or low cost (30Kina - $10USD) card and data plan for use in the trip. Digicel seems to have the best coverage in PNG. With the data plan, you will use voice messaging apps like Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, or Apple iMessage to make calls back to the US. 


Medications: If you are taking any regular medications, please bring twice the amount you would expect to use during your time in PNG. You should divide your medication supply up and carry it in different bags in case one is lost or delayed. Bring an extra pair of glasses, contact lenses, hearing aids and batteries, and other such commodities because replacements will be difficult to obtain in a timely manner.

Health Insurance Coverage: Even if you have a health insurance policy, Australian hospitals may require a cash deposit equivalent to the anticipated cost of services before they agree to accept you for treatment. You would then be able to submit your hospital bills to your medical insurance carrier for reimbursement.

Dental: There may be no dental care available, except for emergencies. Address any potential dental needs before you travel.


It is important that your immunizations are up-to-date.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is the best source for immunization information.  You can find information relevant to your trip at  


Malaria is a common problem in PNG. It is spread by the bite of infected female Anopheles mosquitoes, which bite between dusk and dawn. There are four species of malaria parasites, all of which are present in PNG. We therefore recommend that all travelers to PNG see a travel medicine doctor at least two months prior to their trip so that they may obtain anti-malarial prophylaxis, and also to update their vaccinations.

Mosquito avoidance: Medications can help to prevent a malaria infection, but should be combined with personal protective measures that decrease your risk of being bitten by mosquitoes. Such measures include: sleep under mosquito nets (preferably insecticide {permethrin} treated) when not in a well-screened house, judiciously use DEET-containing mosquito repellents, use permethrin repellents on bed nets and clothes, wear long sleeves and long pants in evening hours, and limit outdoor activity between dusk and dawn.  Mosquito repellent, RID (a mosquito repellent), is available in PNG and seems quite effective.

Evacuation Insurance

Emergency Medical Evacuation insurance is required. The recommended companies are listed on the Evacuation Insurance page, under the 'Travel' tab at the top of this page.  PNG only has limited and basic medical assistance available, so any medical emergencies would require evacuation to Australia which can get very expensive. 


When traveling internationally, make sure you are acquainted with all the airline guidelines for luggage weight and size.   If your travel agent books you through to Port Moresby on one ticket, you will usually not have to pay extra fees for your in-country commercial flight. The flight across the ocean is long and you will need to get up and walk around the plane and do some exercises in your seat to keep circulation flowing well. Some airlines will feed you meals and some will not. Know that ahead of time and come prepared with something to snack on. Make sure you have all your prescription medication and a change of clothes in your carry-on. Watch the weight of your carry-on. Quantas has been enforcing a 7KG limit (15lbs) for carry-on bags. 

WA has the names of travel agents that regularly work with making bookings for the volunteers. They get the best prices for the volunteers, which means they use different airlines—the ones that are giving the best deals at the time—and hopefully the most efficient route.  You can find the names of the travel agents on the Travel Agency Information page.

NOTE: More than eight hours in Australia will require a visa even if you will not be leaving the airport. Be aware of this as you book your flights. The easiest and fastest way is to get an ETA (Electronic Travel Authority) through your travel agent or airline. You may want to find out if they charge you a fee per visa or if the service is gratis. Information on the ETA is also available online at:


What to Bring

What you choose to bring will be greatly affected by the length of time that you will be volunteering, and the type of work that you will be doing. Here are a few general guidelines.


Houses are generally furnished with major appliances, dishes, utensils, and linens. All electrical items are 220 volts. Electrical equipment from the U.S. that is not dual 110/220 volt compatible will require a transformer.   


Umbrellas are a necessity. The kind that fold up and can be carried daily in a backpack or bilum (PNG equivalent of a purse/shoulder bag) are especially useful.


Available in PNG, but expensive: toothpaste, shampoo, conditioner, deodorant, hand soap (antibiotic and regular), shaving gel, women’s hygiene products…if you prefer a particular brand, bring your own.

Sun Protection

Protection from the sun is very important, so a good hat is essential. It should be cool to wear and have a large enough brim to shield the face, ears and neck. Even children need a good hat and should be encouraged to wear it. Skin cancer in later life is a definite risk to people who spend a lot of time in the sun and as PNG is in the tropics the sun here is very strong – deceptively so. Even on a cooler or even cloudy day, sunburn is likely if you are outside for any length of time. Therefore, good sunscreen is also necessary. SPF 30+ is the preferred strength. 

Life in Country

Greetings from Papua New Guinea!

There are many blessings of working in Papua New Guinea. Here are just a few:

  • Being a part of a diverse group of people with one common goal – doing what God has led them to do to open His Word to the people of PNG in their own language.
  • Being a part of a multi-cultural community and experiencing a diversity of world views, personalities, work styles, etc. Learning from and with each other.
  • Working side-by-side with Papua New Guinean Christians – not just enabling them with our skills, but learning from them.
  • Recognizing the sovereignty of God: away from all the high-tech support of the western world, one realizes quite soon that really we need to depend on God and Him alone.



You will be doing a lot of walking on unpaved roads and paths. Comfortable, sturdy shoes with good, aggressive tread are extremely important. Shoes are taken off at the door, so you may also want flip-flops or slippers for inside. Clothes are dried on a line in the hot sun, so they should be low care, easy to wash, and quick to dry. Whites may also become dingy in the wash water, so colors are best. In general, you will want cool clothing. However, you will need a sweater or light jacket in the evening.


Men may wear casual clothing, but shorts should be long and loose-fitting. T-shirts and jeans are acceptable, but remember that jeans are hot. If doing construction work, bring work boots, gloves, and sturdy clothes. Pants and a shirt with a collar are appropriate for church.

Athletic and Leisure Wear: Trousers and shorts (with an inseam of no less than four inches), button-up shirts, t-shirts, baseball shirts, and the like are all acceptable. Please do not bring “boxer” shorts for wear as external clothing. Tight-fitting shorts and “see-through” shorts should not be worn. Shirts need to be worn at all times except for athletic events.

It gets cool at Ukarumpa, even though it is very hot in the lowlands! Come prepared for both. Remember that you will most likely just have the sun to dry your clothes and jeans will take extra time to dry. Wear appropriate attire for your work situation.


Dresses & skirts are always acceptable, except when doing construction team type work. Skirts or dresses are usually worn to church.  In general, the key is not to show the outline of the body. Form-fit dresses or tops are unacceptable. Longer skirts/dresses (below the knee) - with fairly full skirt are easiest in the village setting where you are often required to sit on the ground. They are also very comfortable. It is also acceptable for women to wear pants, jeans, capris, or shorts when in your own house. If worn outside the house, you should always wear a long, loose overtop/t-shirt to hide the area from waist to mid-thigh. If it comes down to your fingertips, the top is certainly acceptable. If you will be living in the Highlands, a pair of sweatpants would be good for cool evenings or even for sleeping.

Tight clothing just isn’t wise or culturally appropriate – even for young girls and teens. Tops that show the stomach or midriff are not culturally appropriate.

Note: it is becoming more acceptable for women to wear pants or capris, but NOT in a village setting, and still with a long top.

Athletic Wear

You may wear shorts while playing volleyball or other sports. They must be “knee length” and loose fitting. A long baggy t-shirt will need to be worn over your shorts. The t-shirt should cover your “bum”. You will need to put on regular attire (as outlined above), as soon as the sports time is over.


Low care, easy to wash, and quick to dry. There are no dry cleaners available here! Most houses do not have a clothes dryer. Clothes are dried on a line in the sun. In some areas, the water used for washing is river water. Therefore, white clothes won’t stay white very long. :) Colors are better.


The important thing for the shoe, whatever type you bring, is to have good tread. Smooth-soled shoes are dangerous on the gravel roads/paths. There aren’t paved roads/paths in villages. Paths/roads are uneven, slippery, muddy, and generally not flat. Quality shoes cannot be purchased easily in PNG. Bring several pair per person – and allow for growth for children.

Sturdy shoes with traction, such as sport sandals, tennis shoes, or hiking/work boots are appropriate for outdoor wear. Shoes are taken off at the door, so flip-flops, socks, or slippers are helpful as indoor wear.

Linens and Towels

In some areas, houses are furnished with linens and towels, but they may not be the best quality.  Please check with your manager in PNG to find out if they will be provided where you will be staying.  Linens and towels in PNG are expensive.


In-Country Travel

Topography and climate have severely hindered the development of transportation, particularly roads, and hence the economic development of sectors of the interior of PNG. Air and sea are major means of transport, although the nation is developing a road system.

Most folks walk everywhere – whatever the weather. So you’ll get used to walking in the rain – and wearing shoes you can easily dry out and/or clean.

Adjusting to PNG

It will be a fairly big adjustment for you to move from your home country where almost anything you want or need is available just down the street at the shopping mall or supermarket. It will catch you off guard, no matter how many times you tell yourself that you are going to be a missionary in a far-away country.

  • Phones, internet and electricity go out often.
  • Travel can be difficult or at times restricted due to security issues.

It is hard to paint a correct picture of what it is like to work here in PNG. Words that we use will conjure up images in your mind that you are familiar with – not that reflect reality here.

What to Expect in PNG

Living in a different country is an exciting and challenging experience. Not only will you move to a different geographic location, you will move from the ‘known’ of your home culture to the ‘unknown’ of a wide variety of new customs and cultural experiences – both Papua New Guinean and expatriate. Perhaps the best items to remember to pack are a learner attitude, servant heart, and a large quantity of flexibility.

Here are some specific orientation ideas that we have thought about for the Pacific area.

  1. The Pacific Area is beautiful, remote, and undeveloped. 
  2. At first everything feels a bit uncomfortable, but you will soon learn that you can be very happy with less, and you will find new and creative ways to make or do almost anything.
  3. You must be prepared to slow down, be flexible, and smile. 
  4. Don’t expect anything to be “like” it is in America.
  5. Melanesian culture and American culture are very different.  Different is not bad, it’s just different.   
  6. The people are very resourceful and know how to get whatever they need from what God has created.  Their life is built on what they can do with help of others from their village/family. 
  7. Their culture is not based on $$$, but on trading, borrowing, paying back, and relationships. 
  8. Often, we come into this culture and think that they are “poor.”  This is not entirely true. They tend to be resource rich, but money poor.  Melanesian culture says that if you have a need, your family should help you, which makes you corporately rich. 
  9. Giving Papua New Guineans money or material things should be done thoughtfully based on relationships.  In PNG, it is important to keep relationships balanced.  It is culturally unacceptable to have one person in a relationship always giving and the other always receiving.  So use caution and ask Papua New Guineans whom you trust if you are unsure.
  10. We should not feel guilty about what we have.  God has given us different things.  When we feel guilty, we “gift” in ways that can be hurtful to us, to them, and to their society.  There will be times when you should give, and other times when you should not.  You will have to pray and listen to the Holy Spirit's prompting.
  11. The cargo cult philosophy has spread into many Melanesian cultures.  This is the belief that when you become a Christian, a boat (plane) load of “stuff” will come pouring into your lap.  White skins have received the “stuff”, but aren’t sharing it with the black skins.  Since this is a sharing culture, some people like to “help us share” by stealing our stuff.  Your best protection against this behavior it to develop good relationships with the Papua New Guineans around you.
  12. “Stuff” is not really important, and you need to be prepared to “lose” your stuff.   If “stuff” is that important to you, don’t bring it.
  13. Melanesian culture is about relationships.  Spending time with someone is more important than getting anywhere “on time".  You also should never cause someone “shame,” meaning that it is sometimes better to be indirect about answering, in a way that will not make a person feel bad. You will find ways to do this without telling a lie. Saying “no” to a person will usually shame them.
  14. People in relationships are expected to help with school fees, funeral or wedding meals, or to provide something that is needed.  As a short-termer, you should not feel the need to enter into this type of relationship.


One can feel safe to walk about during the day, but women should be accompanied by men in the evening. Like anywhere, be alert to your surroundings and use common sense. When you leave your house during the day and when you are home in the evening, it is wise to lock your doors and secure your valuables. Trouble-makers in this country are called Rascals. Many, but not all of the homes have bars on the windows and alarm systems to prevent and alert authorities should a break-in occur.  

Spiritual Warfare 

PNG is a country with a long history of tribal fighting, cults, and animism. One can expect a high level of spiritual warfare at MAST events - large numbers of translators having deaths in their immediate families, tribal fights, unexplained illnesses, tensions between team members. Awareness, submission to guidance of the Holy Spirit, and prayer are useful tools in this spiritual battle. Wycliffe Associates has a WAVE class on spiritual warfare that may be useful before traveling to PNG. 


Available Food Items

MAST Events: At MAST events, local food will be provided. Breakfast is frequently a roll with butter, honey or jam. Lunch and Dinner are more substantial, but you may find meals you aren't comfortable eating such as sandwiches with uncooked vegetables like lettuce, cucumber and tomatoes. Meals also tend to have lots of root vegetables - potatoes, sweet potatoes, Taro. Some participants may want to bring protein bars with them to supplement. You may not be in a location where a store is readily available to purchase snacks/food. Bottled water is usually made available, but it is best to have a water purifier or filter with you. It also may help to take digestive medicine daily to minimize food issues. 

Produce at local markets – seasonal:

Highlands (Ukarumpa): white potatoes, sweet potatoes (several varieties), yams, greens, carrots, green beans, shelled beans, peas, snow peas, cabbage, celery, broccoli, green onions, yellow onions, red/green peppers, chili peppers, ginger, avocados, bananas, pineapple, guava, papaya, passion fruit, oranges, lemons, strawberries, blackberries, rhubarb, mangoes (in December).

Lowlands: sweet potatoes, taro, greens, yams, green onions, sugar cane, sago, watermelon, pineapple, bananas, papaya, pitpit, local mushrooms, coconuts, pomelo (variety of grapefruit).

Grocery items are more expensive than they would be in your home country because everything is shipped in to PNG or at least up to the Highlands from the coast. 

Basic food items: flour (white or whole wheat); sugar (raw, refined, powdered, brown); rice, pasta, salt, seasonings, oil (various types), shortening, oatmeal, farina, packaged breakfast cereals; boxed and canned juices, boxed and powdered milk (full cream and skim); coffee, tea, powdered drink mixes; cookies, biscuits, bread (sometimes); tinned vegetables and fruits; peanut butter, jam, Nutella; dried fruits and nuts; cheese, butter, margarine; fresh meat and chicken (not all types of meat all the time, but generally there is meat available). 


General Overview of Ukarumpa and PNG

Location and Geography

    Area: 178,260 sq. mi.

Capital City: Port Morseby 

Papua New Guinea is a land of jungles and high mountains that occupies half of the island of New Guinea and includes many other small islands. A chain of rugged mountain ranges runs through the center of the nation for its entire length, some rising almost 15,000 feet. Active volcanoes are found on the main island and on some of the smaller islands. Lesser mountain ranges run along the north coast, separated from the central ranges by the low river valleys. In the southwest, the central mountains fall steeply into foothills and then swampy lowlands. There are few paved roads, so about 80 percent of Bible translators in Papua New Guinea must travel to and from their remote village translation locations by air.


Annual precipitation in PNG averages 80-100 inches for many areas, but some receive over 200 inches. Northwest monsoons bring heavy rain from November through April. Then from May through October, the southwest trade winds bring torrential rains to parts of the southern mainland and the south coasts of New Britain and New Ireland. Port Moresby, which lies in a rain shadow, averages only about 40 inches.

Lowland areas are hot and humid, averaging about 27° C (80° F) and vary little between months. Both temperatures and humidity, though, drop as altitude increases. At higher elevations it may even frost at night.


The official name of PNG is the Independent State of Papua New Guinea. PNG follows a parliamentary system of government whose 109 elected members serve five-year terms. A maximum of 27 members serve as a cabinet known as the National Executive Council. It is led by a Prime Minister who is the head of the current coalition of parties forming the government, and functions as the country’s executive power. The Prime Minister chooses his cabinet from the members of Parliament.

Technically, Queen Elizabeth II is head of state. She is represented in the country by the Governor General, a Papua New Guinea citizen recommended to her by the National Executive Council for appointment.

Flag of Papua New Guinea

Papua New Guinea’s flag consists of a rectangle divided diagonally from the upper left corner to the lower right corner. The upper segment is scarlet and contains a soaring yellow bird of paradise. The lower segment is black with the five stars of the Southern Cross.


Papua New Guinea’s economy is solidly based on its natural resources and has undergone dramatic change in the past few years. Approximately 85 percent of the population depends on the land around them for food, shelter, and income. Up to the mid-1960’s, the economy was plantation-oriented, depending primarily on such plantation cash crops as coffee, tea, copra, coconut, oil from oil palm and cocoa. Oil palm is now the leading export.

Recently timber has become an important product, and the prawn and tuna industries have made significant strides as well. The country has also developed some large scale manufacturing such as sugar, and is encouraging small-scale production of import substitutes such as cigarettes, tires, glass, concrete products, rubber items and clothing.


Papua New Guinea’s literacy rate is difficult to determine and has been variously estimated at 57-65%. The school system provides for primary school (six years), high-school (four years), senior high-school (two years), and technical and teacher training colleges. The major institutions of higher learning are the University of Papua New Guinea at Port Moresby and the University of Technology at Lae.

Most Christian schools are now an integral part of the National Education Service, a government agency established to assure a fair distribution of educational facilities and funds. The number of students who are now attending school beyond the primary level is growing.


The early ancestors of the indigenous inhabitants of Papua New Guinea probably came to the island several thousand years ago from Asia via the Malay Peninsula and the islands of Indonesia.

European interest in New Guinea dates from 1512 when a Portuguese navigator first sighted the coast. After landing on the north coast in 1527, Jorge de Menzes of Spain dubbed the land “Island of Papuan People,” papu-wu being the Malay word for “wooly-haired.” Ingio Ortez de Retes named the island New Guinea in 1545 because the people seemed to resemble those of the Guinea coast of Africa.

It was not until the 19th century that European interest developed in earnest. By the end of that century the Dutch controlled the western half of the island, the Germans held the northeastern section and the British the southeast. Australia assumed the administration of the British sector in 1905. Germany lost its New Guinea holdings as a result of World War I and they were mandated to Australia by the League of Nations as the Territory of New Guinea.

Japan invaded New Guinea at the beginning of the World War II, taking control of much of the island. American and Australian forces were unable to completely free it of Japanese troops until the end of 1944. Following the war, the Territory of New Guinea became a United Nations trust under the continuing administration of Australia. In 1949, Australia’s Territory of Papua and Australian trusteeship, the Territory of New Guinea, were administratively united to become the Territory of Papua and New Guinea. First governed by a Legislative Council, a House Assembly replaced the Council in 1963 and elections were held the following year.

In 1972 the territory’s name was changed to Papua New Guinea and in 1972, elections brought the formation of a Ministry led by Chief Minister Michael Somare. In 1973, the country became self-governing in all areas except internal security, foreign affairs and defense. Then, after adopting a constitution, the country moved smoothly to complete independence on September 16, 1975.

Bible Translation Needs

The door to Bible translation is wide open in PNG. Christians from all over the world have contributed to Bible translation in the country, and God’s Word is available in more languages here than in any other nation in the world. The Papua New Guinea Bible Translation Association (BTA) and several other organizations continue working in languages all around the country. Even so, the remaining need is staggering: in 350-400 surveyed languages, work has not even begun, and of the 250 completed New Testaments, about 200 of the language groups have rejected these translations due to the translations using multiple languages, lack of literacy, or other issues. 

Local churches across PNG are rapidly adopting MAST to control their destiny with Bible translation. While BTA, SIL, and Pioneers still have some projects underway, the timelines of these projects aren't meeting the needs of the churches and the local Christians are rising up to do the projects themselves. Local churches estimate real translation needs to exceed 3000 languages and distinct dialects across PNG. 

The People of PNG

Papua New Guinea’s people face an incredible diversity of opportunities and challenges. The people’s history stretches back many millennia. Over thousands of years, groups of people learned to survive together, reaching an island and settling there, or finding a high valley and making it home. Archaeological evidence indicates that Highlanders developed agricultural techniques at about the same time that the better-known Middle Eastern civilizations were learning how to master their own food supplies, half a world away.

                    Population: 6.6 million

       Distribution: Urban 13.1 %, Rural 86.9 %

Life Expectancy: Male 64 years, Female 69 years

                    Infant Mortality: 38/1000

                             Literacy: 57-65% 

As the people spread out, adapting their ways of life to the conditions they encountered, their languages changed dramatically too. Today, Papua New Guineans speak more than 800 languages, many as different from each other as English is from Chinese. Such a diversity of languages and cultures offers a rich heritage in a changing world, but it also leaves the citizens, the government, and the church to grapple with needs for multilingual education, healthcare, natural resource management, and conflict resolution.

The indigenous population of Papua New Guinea is one of the most diverse in the world. There are several thousand communities, some with only a few hundred people, which differ in language, customs and traditions. Some of these communities have engaged in tribal warfare with their neighbors for centuries. The isolation created by the mountainous terrain is so great that some groups, until recently, were unaware of the existence of neighboring groups only a few kilometers away. The overall population density of the country is low, although pockets of overpopulation exist.

Relationships in PNG revolve around two key factors: exchange and informality. Gift exchange initiates a relationship, and is the means to further and deepen that relationship. Papua New Guineans are generally very friendly towards outsiders and forgiving of cultural blunders. Rural Papua New Guinean social life is clan-based, and/or village-based. The women are in charge of the everyday care and harvest of crops. Men, on the other hand, hunt, fish, and take care of the heavier work of preparing the garden plots (felling trees, etc.). Urban areas are a mix of traditional and western values.


Papua New Guinea recognizes three official languages which are used for all government communications:  English, Tok Pisin and Hiri Motu. The formal education system, however, only makes use of English. Besides these three languages, the country has been estimated to have approx. 820 different language groups. (“Language groups” is the preferred term for referring to minority vernaculars in this country.) Most of these languages are classified into two main groups:

1)   Austronesian (including Melanesian and Polynesian), and

2)   Papuan (of which there are several major language families)

The Papuan languages are most numerous and are found throughout the country, although mostly in the interior and western portions. Most languages are spoken by an average of around 4,000 speakers, though a few number from 50,000 upwards to 150,000.


Most of PNG was reached by Christian missionaries in decades past, and many of the people have accepted Christianity. But syncretism and fear of evil spirits remain strong in many places, often because the people do not have God’s Word in a language they can understand deeply.

About 80% of Papua New Guinea’s population is registered as Christian. Some 10% claim no religion and another 10% adhere to the animist religions of their forefathers, practicing ancestor worship and magic. In many areas of PNG, the people’s response to culture change and Western influence has been “revitalization” movements: organized activities involving the religious, political and economic spheres of the culture. Some of these movements have been labeled “cargo cults”, mainly because of their teaching which parallels Christianity. The pioneer Christian mission to the country was the London Missionary Society, whose first worker, Samuel McFarlane, arrived in 1870. Seven years later he was joined by Scottish-born James Chalmers, one of the best known missionaries of the Pacific Southwest islands. McFarlane and Chalmers were soon followed by Methodist, Anglican, Lutheran and Catholic missionaries.

So as not to interfere or overlap their work, mission groups decided in a conference around the turn of the century to divide the territory, each responsible for a section. As a result, almost all areas of Papua New Guinea today have had a least some contact with a mission group. However, in recent years, many new and independent mission agencies have overlapped into those areas which have been traditionally recognized. Thirty percent of the Christian population claims membership in the Roman Catholic Church. Most Catholics are found in the East and West Sepik Provinces, in New Britain and New Ireland, and in Bougainville as well as most large towns and cities. Lutherans are concentrated in the Highlands, Madang and Morobe areas. Anglican, Baptist and Seventh-Day Adventist churches have been established for many years. Many Pentecostal groups are also functioning.

The other major Christian body is the “United Church”, formed in the late 1960’s by Methodists, the Kwato Church and the Papua Eklesia. It is almost entirely indigenous in leadership and is found mostly in the New Britain, New Ireland, Western, Gulf and Central provinces, Milne Bay area, Southern Highlands and Bougainville.


In the urban areas, life is more uneven. Some families move from rural areas and do well enough financially to maintain ties with their village. Others are forced to choose between the two, for economic reasons. Because of unemployment and underemployment, many youth turn to crime.

Socio-cultural change is rapidly taking place all around the country. This is evident in clothes in particular where access to second-hand clothes has transformed the manner of dress, making it similar to western-style while traditional clothes are worn for special occasions.

Because of 19th and early 20th century missionaries, the influence of Christianity is easy to see in PNG today. The local church plays an important part in the social life of most of the rural people.