“After the capital, most tourists take a boat cruise up the Sepik River in the north part of the main island. This is the best way to see the various ethnic groups inhabiting the country, which each have their own language and customs.
The river originates in a high mountain chain near the Indonesian border and forms the most important trade route between the interior and the coast. Lakes, lagoons, backwaters, waterfalls, and swamps line are all to be seen en route.
Tours generally depart from the town of Madang, where you can buy excellent hand-made craft items. The smaller islands all have their own unique character.
The Trobriand Islands, much studied by cultural anthropologists, celebrate a series of spectacular festivals between May and September to mark the yam root's harvest, which is their staple crop. A rare treat for the traveler’s palate.
Even for seasoned global travelers, this country on the world’s second-largest island is a very special experience, and there are few sights in the world with as much sustained beauty as this famous waterway. Numerous broad rivers flow down the valleys before taking an enchantingly leisurely, winding course to the sea, while the highlands are dotted with almost alpine pastures.
Accommodation is safe and comfortable, while well-planned activities and capable guides await the adventurous globetrotter.
Papua New Guinea owes its notoriety to two things: extraordinary natural diversity and cannibals. The island's topography shows huge differences, with mountains, highlands, swamps, and vast cliffs alternating with one another. The wildlife is also breathtaking, and the almost virgin rainforests provide a habitat for many species of animals and plants.
The tribal customs of Papua are the third attraction, attracting many ethnographers and filmmakers to the island.
Unfortunately, as is the case in most developing countries, the country is plagued by a lack of infrastructure and rising crime rates, but don’t let such problems dissuade you from visiting this remarkable country. (2015)
“The Highlands' mountains are mostly formed from limestone, and the “bellies” of the mountains hide many caves. Walking in the Whagi river valley near Mount Hagen, a fiercely gesturing Marcona Papuan appears in front of us. Bob tells us that the man is willing to show us the secret cave in which the corpses of their comrades killed in the tribal war during the fifties were placed for a couple of kina. We decide to seize the opportunity, though we still don’t realize that reaching the place requires an exhausting hike.
Initially, we pass fields of taro and kaukau (sweet potatoes) surrounded by groves of pandanus, then start climbing the mountainside. The entrance to the cave is in a well-disguised place – if you don’t know where it is, you won’t find it. We get in through a narrow opening, barely visible in the twilight, but as we shine our flashlights, the skulls and fading corpses glint. A shocking sight! The cult of highly respected ancestors is still alive today. In many places, the Papuans store their deceased relatives' bones and skulls, often making them into fascinating objects of daily use in their huts or else storing them in another adjacent building.
Many causes may lead to the outbreak of tribal wars: the capture of a stray pig, the abduction of a woman, or simply an accidental or deliberate intrusion into tribal territory. Here, everything has its precisely defined value! In a relatively food-poor environment, the price of pigs rivals that of gold in some places. Piglets are so highly esteemed that they are walked on a leash, and it is not uncommon for Papuan women to breastfeed them!
The busiest stretch of road in the Highlands connects Mount Hagen with Lae (pronounced lay), the large port city of the east coast. The poor-quality concrete road runs through several provinces, i.e., several tribal areas. From the West Highlands to the East, you have to cross the province of Chimbu and a notorious pass. When we were there, this was the section from which the news of fighting had previously come. There was no problem until we had to slow due to a landslide at the pass. Then, from out of the bush, with a rousing battle cry, about thirty Papuans in grass skirts charged out, armed with bows and arrows, stone axes, and scrub-cutting knives. The bloodshed was delayed because, fortunately, the police showed up, and the attackers, as suddenly as they came, fled into the forest. In the old days, it was a mark of pride to have gone to the white man’s prison, especially when imprisonment for a few days was imposed because of having eaten the flesh of a slain enemy. Today, however, cannibalism has long been outlawed, and much more severe penalties are imposed for roadblocks and tribal warfare.
We head for one of the most striking rivers of the island’s rich fluvial network, the Sepik. The engine of our small propeller aircraft rises to an even hum, and as we take off from the Highlands, the mountain's slope and the forests expand. Blindingly white cumulus clouds cast dark spots of shadow across the uniformly lush landscape beneath us. As far as the eye can see, there is no trace of human settlement, as though this paradisal world is completely uninhabited… But among the lush vegetation, especially along with the well-situated waterfront areas, many small villages hide.
We land in Wewak. Here on the Bismarck Sea, the port city and its environs suffered greatly during World War II as a result of attacks by Japanese invaders. Today, that past is evoked by some remaining wreckage, numerous tombs, and a few monuments.
Our final destination is Angoram. This village along the Sepik can only be reached overland from Wewak. The dirt road leading into the seemingly impenetrable tropical rainforest is a tough ordeal, even for four-wheel-drive SUVs. To travel nearly two hundred kilometers takes at least four hours; still, it has been at least a month since the last great downpours of the rainy season.
Dusk is falling by the time we get there. We are on the edge of civilization, and there are hardly any stone or brick houses in the village, no electricity, and only a limited quantity of water. All the manufactured goods available in the tiny shops have been made here in the country. We can't expect chilled beer or soft drinks or even cold fruit in the absence of functional refrigerators. However, a large supply of tropical fruit, including pineapple, banana, and papaya, is slowly rotting on the market counters.
A number of log canoes rest on the riverbanks, having brought the inhabitants of villages near and far to the market. Carving out such a canoe requires serious expertise and takes a few weeks. Carving boats is a separate craft. Despite this hard and persistent work, if we wanted to buy one, it would cost us twenty dollars at most.
Around Angoram, the Sepik river network widens; the landscape is characterized by shallows, swamps, and broad bays. Due to significant fluctuations in the water level, huts are built on stilts here. Even the huge communal houses, decorated with carved tribal motifs and protruding roofs, rest on meter-diameter wooden poles. But this construction method also has another advantage: the unexpected attacks of dangerous crocodiles cannot seize these raised houses' occupants.
The Papuans, knowing the value of crocodile skin and tourists' interest, set up crocodile farms and showcase captive reptiles for money. The local men are mostly engaged in fishing, the women in raising children, doing household chores, cultivating kitchen gardens, and producing sago flour. The thick logs of the cut-out sago palm are placed on frames by the men, and the soft insides of the palm trunk are cut out with axes. In the process of washing and cleaning, however, women play the main role.” (K. Elter, 2017)