Papua New Guinea has been little more than a pawn on the international chess board ever since it was first visited by outsiders in the fourteenth century. It has been in turn coveted, considered a liability, and threatened with military conquest until today, when as an independent nation it enjoys assistance from outside countries, but makes its own decisions.
At the end of this section will be found a list of excellent books which tell the story in far greater and more interesting detail than possible here. Meanwhile, to help get it altogether for those who want a basic outline of history, the following is presented.
Interest in Papua New Guinea probably commenced in the 14th Century when the Sultan of Tidor added parts of New Guinea to his possessions. The Spanish and Portuguese established an alliance with the Sultan, and they never touched his New Guinea territory. Even when the Dutch conquered Tidor in 1654 the Sultan maintained nominal power over his domain, so disinterested were the Dutch in this particular corner of the world.
Because of the Dutch-Tidor association, Britain recognised Holland's claim over west New Guinea as early as 1814 yet the Dutch did not annexe the country for themselves until 1848 — probably because the Germans were showing an interest in the country by then.
In great flurries of interest, France and Britain ordered hydrographic surveys done of certain areas around Papua New Guinea, but with Bismarck opposing his country's plans for colonisation of the south seas, France and Britain's fears of being beaten to the area were, for the time being, unfounded.
Actually the German commercial firm of J. C. Godeffroy moved into New Guinea without any assistance or blessings from its government. It set up shop on the Duke of York Islands — just outside of Rabaul, to service the many ships which used the St George Channel en route from Australia to China.
The fact that ships were forced to sail this far east before turning west had a great bearing on the political development in New Guinea. In an effort to find a shorter route, the British Government sent survey ships into the Torres Strait and along the Papua coast. Thus hundreds of sea miles were saved by the establishing of a route through the China Strait and the spin-off was the discovery of Port Moresby and other areas of Papua New Guinea.
Germany eventually backed and encouraged commercial enterprise in New Guinea by annexing North East New Guinea, New Britain, New Ireland and, some years later, Bougainville. Under pressure from Australia, Britain annexed south east New Guinea and its off-lying islands.
It can thus be seen that New Guinea came under the domination of three great colonising nations — the Dutch in west New Guinea, the Germans in north east New Guinea and the British in south east New Guinea.
Except for minor skirmishes here and there, none of the colonising nations experienced much resistance because the country did not present a united front. Instead, it was a collection of small villages and islands with each community an armed camp pitted against its neighbour in perpetual conflict. Something like 700 different languages between less than two million people maintained the division.
When Australia itself became a united country with a central government in 1901, the administration of Papua — as British New Guinea became known — was handed over to her.
In 1914, when World War I began, Australian forces occupied German New Guinea and after the war a mandate was given to Australia by the League of Nations for the former German territories.
Reminding us of the recent past where cannibalism was common is this horde of skulls found in a cave on Misima Island.
In 1942 Papua New Guinea's darkest hour began with the landing of Japanese forces at Rabaul. After three years of bloody fighting the Allies wrested control of the country from the Japanese and the many rusting war relics bear mute and grim testimony to this time.
In 1963, Indonesia claimed and won territorial rights over Dutch New Guinea. The United Nations literally gave it to them while Australia played a negative role by not supporting either Indonesia or the Netherlands. West, or Dutch, New Guinea became West Irian with its capital changing its name from Hollandia to Sukarnapura. Later it became known as Jayapura and the country became known as Irian Jaya.
Australia, meanwhile, had the task of bringing her mandated Territory of New Guinea and Papua into the twentieth century. Whether the natives really wanted this or not is debatable, but certainly enough wanted it to form political parties to be ready to take over the reins when independence came in 1975 after two years of self determination.
With independence came the end once and for all of the boundary which separated Papua from New Guinea. They became one country with one national government and one national purpose.
Despite the prophecies of doom by those who 'knew the country and its inhabitants like the back of their hand', there was no bloodshed during the transfer of power. Old tribal differences did not rekindle to a point of civil warfare and those thousands of Europeans who sold up and fled the country need not have bothered. Even the Chinese, who everyone thought would be tossed out on their ear, survived the change and today continue to send their kids to Australian boarding schools from the proceeds of their continuing and flourishing trading stores.
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