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The tourism motto of Papua New Guinea is "Expect the Unexpected." Although it sounds romantic and adventurous, it is often more accurate than one would like. Visitors do not expect that their plane will be so dangerously overloaded that the pilots will walk away after the first of several scheduled landings leaving them stranded. People don't expect that their hotel bookings will go unrecorded leaving them with no place to spend the night. Visitors also may not expect to arrive at their destination in the middle of a colorful cultural event or to be welcomed with leis of flowers at the airport. One of the reasons a person encounters so much that is unexpected is because of a lack of verifiable information.

Papua New Guinea is slightly larger than California yet it has a population of only 5.5 million people.[1] The country is made up of the eastern half of the island of New Guinea along with over 600 islands. The majority of the terrain is composed of rainforest-covered mountains, with some areas being exceptionally rugged, and parts of the country receive in excess of 400 inches of rain a year.[2] In the south, the land flattens out and the numerous rivers that carry this water away from the highlands feed one of the world's largest swamps. Since the country has less than 450 miles of paved roads, most travel is done by air using primarily short, unpaved airstrips.[3] Hence, it remains the most underdeveloped nation in the world.

As a result, information is scarce, often contradictory, and sometimes quite ridiculous. For example, some references will list the country as having over 1,000 languages[4] while others report the number to be around 700.[5] The Summer Institute of Linguistics Ethnologue, perhaps the most reliable source oflinguistc information, gives a number of 820 living languages.[7] Additionally, some writers apparently visit only a few parts of the country, mainly cities, and assume what they find there to be representative of the country as a whole. In reality, the country has over 600 different tribes (one book I looked at reported the number of tribes as being over 10,000![6]) and each one has its own unique culture that is different in varying degrees from those around it. Since urbanization is relatively new to the country, having only occurred in the last 60 years, the cities are a culture of their own, reflecting the beliefs of the people that inhabit them.

[1] Central Intelligence Agency, May 2, 2006, "The World Factbook: Papua New Guinea," http://www.cia.gov/cia/publications/factbook/pp.html. (accessed May 10, 2006).

[2] I was the official rainfall record-keeper for our area which averaged over 350 inches of annual rainfall over a ten-year span. Not far to the north the rainfall was considerably higher. The Ok Tedi mine site just 25 miles away often recorded in excess of 475 inches of rain annually.

[3] Central Intelligence Agency.

[4] Laura Zimmer-Tamakoshi, Countries and Their Cultures. Melvin Ember and Carol R. Ember, ed. (New York: Macmillan Reference USA, 2001), 1727.

[5] Miranda Bruce-Mitford, Hugh Poulton (Eastern Europe), Dr. John Russell (USSR), Kate Stearman, comp., World Directory of Minorities (Chicago: St. James Press, 1989), 379.

[6] Ibid, 379.

[7] Raymond G. Gordon, Jr. ed, "Ethnologue: Languages of the World, Fifteenth Edition," SIL International, Dallas, Texas, 2005, http://www.ethnologue.com/ (accessed May 9, 2006).

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