Papua New Guinea (Cultures Of The World), by Ingrid Gascoigne
Papua New Guinea is an interesting and odd country, and this book does a good job at pointing out at least some of the more challenging aspects of the nation. For example, the border of Papua New Guinea is a straight line going from north to south, and this rather unfortunate border has allowed a porous situation where knowledge of Indonesia’s language has extended into Papua New Guinea even as the country has provided a safe place of refuge for those against Indonesian control of that half of the island, given the lack of border control. One of the things that this book does not get into in great detail is just how terrible a city that Port Moresby, the capital of the country is, except to note that most of the country is rural and that there is greater demand than supply for low-price housing in the cities of the country, and that people make their own homes out of scrap materials. Interestingly enough as well, the book does not talk in great detail about the internal problems of the nation as well, focusing mostly on the mainland and its people rather than the islands.
This book is between 100 and 150 pages long and it is divided into various unnumbered chapters. The book begins with an introduction and then discusses the geography of Papua New Guinea. This is followed by a discussion of the nation’s history, focusing on prehistory and recent history, as well as a look at the personality-driven politics of the country. A discussion of the general resource-extraction economy of the country follows, as well as a discussion of some of the notable aspects of Papua New Guinea’s clothing and mourning traditions. A discussion of the country’s lifestyle, including the way that wealth is counted in shells and pigs in some areas, as well as the complex religious identity of the nation, comes after that. This is followed by a discussion of English and the local pidgin language, which makes sense given the baffling linguistic diversity of the nation. A discussion of arts, leisure activities (including singsings), festivals, and food then follows before the book ends with a map, quick notes, glossary, blibliography, and index.
It is not difficult to see why Papua New Guinea’s unusual and striking cultures would draw the interest of a book, but while this book does a good job at discussing the nature of the country in an overview, the cultures of the country are simply too varied and too complex for the book to do justice to. Still, if you want a basic introduction to the country, and this book, like many others of this series, are geared towards younger readers who are studying world geography or something of that nature, this book will do perfectly fine. Like many such books, it is an introduction to a nation that should prompt further reading that will explain more complexities, such as Papua’s intensely complex linguistic history, as well as its immensely complex religious mosaic, a mix of Christianity and local traditions along with a small Muslim community, likely coming from Indonesia. Overall, this book presents a very surface level view of Papua New Guinea, but one has to start with the surface and as such it is hard to get upset about a book like this one because it is hard to do justice to a nation as complex as Papua New Guinea is.