The Papua New Guinea Highlands is tribal territory along a ridge of low mountains running more-or-less the length of the country east to west. This is where most of PNG’s population and the most colourful tribes/clans, live, such as the Huli wigmen.
The key areas are Western (capital: Mt. Hagen), Eastern (capital: Goroka) and Southern Highlands (capital: Mendi).
Local people live in extended family clans as part of a tribe and there is considerable low-tech warfare between clans as well as tribes, with bow, arrows and little axes as primary weapons and trench systems dug around ‘gardens’ (plots of land where vegetables, mainly sweet potatoes, are grown).
Fighting is almost always about land, women or pigs (an enormously valuable beast). If hiking across farmed land you will be expected to pay a toll.
It is strongly advised that foreigners travel with a guide, whether hiking, bird-watching, diving or visiting a clan or festival as language will almost certainly be an issue as there are estimated to be in the region of 700 different languages spoken in Papua New Guinea. For this reason Pidgin English (Tok Pidgin) was introduced to enable cross-clan communication.
Highland roads tend to be rough, muddy and tiresome, not to mention attempted hold-ups by groups of men with little axes (we experienced that excitement as the driver floored the accelerator and the axe men dispersed quite rapidly). As a consequence flying to a small airstrip – of which there is an abundance – near the destination of your choice and driving from there is normal travel sense.