The indigenous population of the world’s second largest island is one of the most heterogeneous in the world. The harsh terrain and historic inter-tribal warfare have lead to village isolation and the proliferation of distinct languages. A number of different tribes are scattered across the highland plateau.


The indigenous population of the world’s second largest island is one of the most heterogeneous in the world. The harsh terrain and historic inter-tribal warfare have lead to village isolation and the proliferation of distinct languages. A number of different groups are scattered across the highland plateau.
“Knowledge is only a rumour until it is in the muscle”
Life is simple in the highland villages. The residents have plenty of good food, close-knit families and a great respect for the wonders of nature. They survive by hunting, gathering plants and growing crops. Indigenous warfare is common and men go through great effort to impress the enemy with make-up and ornaments.

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Goroka is the capital of the Eastern Highlands Province of Papua New Guinea. Though only discovered at the beginning of the 20th century it is now host of a major tourist attraction, the Goroka show.  The renowned Goroka Show is a three-day event that takes place annually around the time of the country's Independence Day (September 16). Dating back to 1957, it is the oldest tribal gathering in Papua New Guinea.  Over 100 tribes from the region show their music, dance and culture.

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"I have spent many years in conflict areas, but in Papua New Guinea I was particularly nervous."



As diverse as the nature of Papua New Guinea is, as diverse are its inhabitants. The indigenous groups have an extraordinary and rich oral tradition, including myths, folk tales, magical sayings and charms. Their material culture is limited to the indispensable things of daily life. However, they do cherish the modest luxury of body ornaments.

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2010Hornbills are a family of birds. Hornbills are found in Africa, Asia and Pacific Northwest. The bill, much to those of the unrelated toucans reminiscent, in many species, is brightly coloured. Their impressive size and colour have helped make them a part of local indigenous cultures and rituals.

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Eastern Highlanders are considered the friendliest of the highlands with fewer tribal fights than other provinces. Territorial conflicts arise not only with other indigenous groups. Also, western colonialism, mining and the advancing developing world threatens their culture.

The territory of villages and indigenous groups - the land they lived on and that provided them with food and shelter for thousands of years - is something the Highlanders have always defended with their lives. A threat from any foreigner will make them feel forced to fight back.

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The indigenous groups from the highlands supply the tribes from the valley with decorative bird feathers, tree kangaroo and cuscus pelts and fine rare woods that have long since disappeared from the valley. The valley people tend to decorate their bodies more than highlanders.

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The staging of the Goroka Show started back in 1957 at the Independence Park opposite the Goroka Main Market. It was first introduced and organized by Australian Kiaps (patrol officers). Kiaps from each district built round houses typical of their districts and proudly displayed their cultures. The Kiaps brought in singing groups from their area. It began as an entertainment weekend for everybody in the Province, but it was also a competition to see which was the best organized and administered district.

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Mount Hagen in the western highlands also hosts a large-scale cultural event. Various regional, provincial, even national indigenous dance groups gather to celebrate their cultural heritage in the form of sing-sing. It's near the Baiyer District which hosts the biggest collection of birds and wildlife in Papua New Guinea, the Baiyer River Bird Sanctuary.  Traditional culture and beliefs remain strong in Mount Hagen and its surroundings.

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Lufa is a town in the Eastern Highlands at the foot of Mount Michel with a population under 1000. Their tradition and culture have over decades strongly been influenced by Western society from evangelist missionaries to Facebook, but traditions and customs remain strong.

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The annually Goroka Show is a display of the traditional dress, dance and music from the diverse indigenous peoples Papua New Guinea inhabits. The biggest and most well-known tribes are the Huli Wigmen and Asaro Mudmen. Indigenous groups smaller in population and lower in rank, but no less creative in body decorations are: Kunana Su Wigmen, Kikuwya Wigmen, Wara Sua Group, Lufar Wigmen, Gahuku wigmen, Finchafen Group, Sobi Lau Waimo Group, Aipos Group, Wombun Group, Kamanibit Group, Arua Group

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The Highlanders universe is filled with all kinds of spirits, some more personal in character than others. Particular reverence is paid to ancestral spirits. In times of trouble, domesticated pigs are sacrificed to the spirits of the ancestors.

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2010Many indigenous groups of Papua New Guinea in the mountainous interior have little contact with one another, let alone with the outside world, and live within a non-monetarized economy dependent on subsistence agriculture.

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2010Indigenous groups in Papua New Guinea are generally contacted in the sense that local authorities know they are there, but many remain pre-literate and out of reach of modern medicine and technology, and at the national or international level, the names of indigenous groups and information about them may be extremely hard to obtain.

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A lot of Goroka, families have now taken to supplementing their family's income by engaging in small agricultural and livestock businesses. The introduction of vanilla, wheat and rice has had a huge impact on agricultural enthusiasts throughout the Province. Rice and wheat are being grown for own consumption and/or selling while the vanilla is sold to the international market. Pigs, rabbits and especially chickens are readily farmed while fresh vegetables are still grown for the local and national markets.

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