New Guinea

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New Guinea
Topographic map of New Guinea
Topographic map of New Guinea
Waters Pacific Ocean
Geographical location 5 °  S , 142 °  E Coordinates: 5 °  S , 142 °  E
Location of New Guinea
length 2 398  km
width 400 km
surface 786,000 km²
Highest elevation Carstensz pyramid
4884  m
Residents 11,300,000 (2014)
14 inhabitants / km²
main place Jayapura and Port Moresby

New Guinea ( Tok Pisin : Niugini ; Dutch : Nieuw-Guinea ; Malay : Papua ) is the second largest island in the world after Greenland , with an area of ​​786,000 km² . The western part, Western New Guinea ( Papua , Papua Barat ), was occupied by Indonesia in 1963 . The east of the island has been part of the independent state of Papua New Guinea since 1975 . New Guinea has the largest tropical forest in Australasia , the richest coral reefs in the world and the richest biodiversity outside of the Amazon . The number of over a thousand indigenous languages is also unique worldwide .


New Guinea is located near the equator , in the north of the Australian continent , from whose mainland it was only separated ( Torres Strait ) as a result of the rise in sea level after the last glacial period 8,000 years ago . In the west it represents the link to Southeast Asia .

Glacier remains on Puncak Jaya, 2005

The island is located in the area of ​​the Pacific Ring of Fire , where the Pacific and Australian lithospheric plates meet. That's why it is criss-crossed by a chain of large mountains. In the west, the Indonesian part of the island, rises the Maoke Mountains , the highest mountain of which is the Puncak Jaya (also called the Carstensz pyramid by mountaineers ; 4884 m) and the second highest is the Trikora at 4750 m. In the eastern part of the island, which belongs to Papua New Guinea, the Bismarck Mountains rise with the highest peak Mount Wilhelm (4509 m). There are a number of other mountains and a variety of volcanoes (e.g. Tavurvur , Giluwe , Lamington and Victory ). The reason for this is that in the north and east of the island in the Pacific and on the island, the edge area of ​​the Pacific plate has broken into several small microplates , each with tectonically active plate edges.

Today there are only tiny remains of glacier on Puncak Jaya . In 1972 there were still several smaller glaciers, such as the Northwall Firn , the Meren Glacier, the Carstensz Glacier and the Southwall Hanging Glacier. They are the remains of a large, closed glacier that was still in existence in 1936. As early as the 20th century, the melting of the glaciers led to the disappearance of the glaciers on the Trikora, the 4800 m high Pilimsit and the 4760 m high Mandala .

Climate diagram for Madang

The longest rivers in New Guinea have their source in the great mountains. Starting from the Maoke Mountains , the Sepik flows in a north-easterly direction and flows into the Bismarck Sea , while the Fly flows to the south-east, where it flows into the Gulf of Papua . In the southwest the Digul flows into the Arafura Sea , in the northwest the Mamberamo into the Pacific and the Waipoga in the west into the Cenderawasih Bay . During the rainy season, the rivers flood large areas of the northern and southern lowlands for months.

The coral reefs at the northwest end at Raja Ampat and at the southeast end in Milne Bay are among the most biodiverse reefs in the world.

Jayapura city

The capital of Papua New Guinea in the southeast, Port Moresby , officially has around 250,000 inhabitants, the second largest city Lae in the east has around 80,000 inhabitants. This is where the Highlands Highway begins , the island's main trunk road, through which the inhabitants of the mountain region are supplied with imported goods. The capital of the Indonesian region of West Papua is Jayapura with about 200,000 inhabitants. Other Indonesian cities include Manokwari in the east of the Vogelkop Peninsula and Merauke in the south.

Flora and fauna

New Guinea is a tropical country and has great ecological diversity. Many of the animals and plants indigenous here are nowhere else in the world (so-called endemics ). Zoogeographically, the fauna of New Guinea belongs to the Australian fauna. The flora of New Guinea, on the other hand, is included in the Indomalay flora region (Indochina, Malaysia, Indonesia).

The western part of the island is one of the few parts of the world that has not yet been completely mapped. Due to the often low-hanging clouds over the densely forested area in the western interior of the island, through which no roads or paths lead, this area has not yet been recorded in atlases, despite the new possibilities offered by satellite technology.


Around 12,000 scientifically described plant species are native to New Guinea; estimates assume an actual number of species of around 20,000. The island's plant species include around 2500 orchids , 1500 lichens , 1200 tree species - including 620 species of pandanus and 80 genera of epiphytes . Pitcher plants , ant trees (epiphytic subshrubs of the genus Myrmecodia ) and tree ferns from the Dicksoniaceae family are also typical . “Traditional” crops are banana, coconut palm, sweet potato, cabbage and pineapple.


Due to the land connections between Australia and New Guinea during the Ice Ages, there are many similarities in the vertebrate fauna. Thus, among the 188 species of mammals living in New Guinea, the marsupials dominate with around 70 species such as climbing bees and tree kangaroos . Even bats are well represented with about 70 species, and rodents . Mammals are still discovered today in the island's inaccessible virgin forests .

Around 700 bird species live in New Guinea , including the characteristic 43 bird of paradise species, twelve species of bowerbirds and cassowaries , which are the largest land animals in New Guinea.

Among the 300 to 400 species of amphibians and reptiles, there are 14 species of turtles, 190 lizards, skinks and monitor lizards, and around 200 species of snakes. The best-known representatives of the herpetofauna are the green tree python or the Papuan python as well as the groin and New Guinea crocodile .

Over 2700 species of fish live on the coasts, in the lagoons, lakes and rivers, including over 350 species of freshwater fish, of which the rainbow fish with around 100 species and gobies are characteristic. New species are still being discovered today, especially in the western part of the island, as the rivers and many lakes in New Guinea have only been little explored.

The invertebrate fauna of New Guinea is extremely species-rich, but has not yet been explored much. Only 25,000 insects and beetles, 300 spider species and 959 butterfly species are known. The largest butterfly on earth lives in New Guinea, the Queen Alexandra bird butterfly with a wingspan of 25 cm.

Dogs, such as the New Guinea dingo , have been introduced over time, but are not closely related to the Australian dingo. The approximately 1.5 million pigs ( Sus scrofa papuensis ) today were introduced by European settlers in the 16th century.

Protected areas

New Guinea has one of the largest contiguous, pristine forest areas on earth. Nevertheless, the ongoing clearing of forests, the extraction of mineral resources and the illegal trade in animals and plants also affect New Guinea. On the other hand, there are laws and aid programs to prevent the problems from worsening. In the last few decades, numerous nature reserves have been created through government or private initiatives. In most cases, these are protected areas in which all fauna and flora of a particular type of landscape are protected. The nature reserves are accessible for research and tourism.

The most important and interesting natural parks of New Guinea are:


New Guinea is populated by 1,089 indigenous people who speak different languages .

Body painting is widespread among many tribes and often takes on extreme forms and also serves to deter enemies. Likewise, v. a. In the pre-colonial period, headhunting became part of the culture of indigenous, plant-based population groups such as the Marind-anim , Sawi , Asmat and Iatmul .


Early days

Card with Sahul and Sunda

The island of New Guinea, 60,000 to 50,000 years ago, when it was first settled by humans, was the northern part of Sahul , a contiguous landmass that spanned the entire continent of Australia . At that time, people immigrated from the west with the help of small boats, because today's islands to the west of New Guinea were not islands at that time, but rather higher parts of the also contiguous Sunda land mass , which was the southern part of the Asian continent.

The highlands and some islands were settled about 30,000 years ago.

Agriculture has been practiced for around 10,000 years . This makes the island an independent cradle of agriculture. The detection of other objects of civilization is very difficult, since organic material quickly decays in the tropical climate. In the course of the melting of the glaciers at the end of the last Ice Age about 6000 years ago, large coastal areas were flooded, which severely limits knowledge of early coastal cultures.

About 7000 years ago the cultivation of sugar cane and bananas in the highlands is proven. Remains of taro roots were found, which are also interpreted as agricultural remains, as they do not occur naturally in the highlands. Drainage channels have also been discovered. The peoples of New Guinea had no trade relations with the other parts of the world or with the high cultures . A strong diversification developed on the island with countless small tribes isolated from one another, so that today there are around 800 languages in New Guinea .

More than 2000 years ago, people of the Austronesian language family predominantly settled the coastal areas of New Guinea, as these people belonging to the Lapita culture were excellent seafarers. The Papuans and Melanesians were dark-skinned. A sacred chieftainship was predominant among the Papuan and Melanesian peoples . Magic was widespread in religions in New Guinea . From the time before the discovery by the Europeans, it is known that there were weak connections to the eastern part of the Malay archipelago .

British New Guinea, 1885

First contacts with Europeans

The Portuguese Jorge de Meneses , who explored the north coast and offshore islands in 1526/27, is considered the island's European explorer.

In 1545 the Spaniard Íñigo Ortiz de Retez landed and named the island "New Guinea" because the coast reminded him of that of the African Guinea , which he had previously passed.

In 1623 Jan Carstenszoon mapped large parts of the coast on behalf of the Dutch East India Company . From this point on, the Dutch East India Company maintained business and power-political contacts with the region and the Sultanate of Tidore .

Colonial era until World War I

Historical map from 1884
Political map of the island from 1884 to 1919: Dutch New Guinea (left) , Kaiser-Wilhelms-Land (top right) and British New Guinea (bottom right)

The colonization of New Guinea at the time of imperialism took place in three steps: by the Netherlands, by Great Britain and by the German Empire. The annexations, which took place in quick succession, led to the division of New Guinea into three spheres of influence, in the course of which different developments arose.

In 1828 a state-funded expedition by the United Kingdom of the Netherlands to the South Seas took place, as a result of which the Dutch occupied the Vogelkop peninsula in the west of the island and established a settler colony.

In 1884 the rest of the island was divided between the Netherlands , Great Britain and the German Empire . The Netherlands took possession of the western half of the island ( Dutch New Guinea , which was part of Dutch India from 1898 to 1962 ), Great Britain the southeast ( British New Guinea ), and Germany the northeast ( Kaiser-Wilhelms-Land ).

The New Guinea's Company, received on 17 May 1885 an imperial letter of protection sovereign rights in Kaiser-Wilhelm-country and also took over sovereign functions. From 1899 the German Empire administered the island under its own administration, as part of German New Guinea .

The British part was ceded to Australia in 1906 as Papua territory , the German part became the Australian League of Nations mandate in 1919 as New Guinea territory . The development of the two areas was quite different because of the separate administration. Both territories were merged in 1949 under joint Australian administration to form the territory of Papua and New Guinea .

Situation in World War II

During the Pacific War , the army of the Japanese Empire occupied the north of the island from 1942 to 1945. The Papuans supported the Allies by transporting equipment and injured people across New Guinea. The capital Port Moresby was temporarily the headquarters of the American General Douglas MacArthur . The fighting between the Japanese and the Allies lasted three years and was very bitter in some places. Sunken warships from that time are still moored in many coastal towns. The Kokoda Track , on which the Japanese army marched to Port Moresby, has also become famous.

Indonesia, which became independent in 1949, laid claim to the western part of New Guinea, but this initially remained Dutch.


Western New Guinea (green) and Papua New Guinea (yellow) with provinces and administrative districts

Dutch New Guinea becomes part of Indonesia in 1963

Adoption of the Dutch governor Plateel, October 3, 1962, two days before the transfer to the UN

From 1957, the Netherlands and Australia began developing plans for the independence of a unified New Guinea in the 1970s. In 1961 an assembly was held in West Papua ( Western New Guinea ) and a parliament, the Nieuw Guinea Raad , was established. Indonesia then invaded the western part of the island and a little later began to drive the Papuans out of the areas. In the now so named Irian Jaya , mainly Javanese should be settled. To date, around 300,000 of the former 700,000 Papuans have lost their lives as a result, while around 800,000 Malay Indonesians immigrated to West Papua. The basis for this is a policy called Transmigrasi .

The national flag of West Papua is called the morning star and consists of a white star on a red background with blue and white horizontal stripes pointing away from the flagpole. This flag ( Dutch : "Morgenster") was introduced in 1961 by the Dutch government as a symbol and first step towards the planned self-government of the Papuan people. Under the Suharto government, flag-raising resulted in imprisonment, torture or even death.

British and German New Guinea became Papua New Guinea in 1973

Main article: History of Papua New Guinea

Elections were held in eastern New Guinea in 1972 and the people voted for independence. In December 1973, Papua New Guinea became autonomous and received full sovereignty on September 16, 1975.


  • Gillian Gillison, Photos: David Gillison: New Guinea: Their dead live in Australia . In: Geo-Magazin. Hamburg 1978,12, pp. 62-82. "Gillian and David Gillison took their daughter Samantha with them to the Gimi, a Papuan tribe." Informative experience report. ISSN  0342-8311
  • Steffen Keulig: Nightmare Civilization - Back to the Stone Age. A journey to the forest people of New Guinea . Meridian, Rostock 2002, revised edition 2015 ISBN 3-934121-04-7

See also

Web links

Commons : New Guinea  - collection of images, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: New Guinea  - explanations of meanings, origins of words, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Papua New Guinea Earthquake Information ( Memento of October 10, 2009 in the Internet Archive )
  2. ^ I. Allison, JA Peterson: Ice Areas on Mt. Jaya: Their Extent and recent history. (PDF file; 1.5 MB)
  3. ^ Volks Ploetz, Oceania and New Zealand, p. 311