A Huli ‘warpath’ between plots of land, with warriors on the march, Papua New Guinea Highlands.
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 (enormously valuable beasts). 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.
A sign outside a hotel in Papua New Guinea in English and Tok Pidgin.
The bottom section of the sign can be more or less translated as: all men and women must respect rules belonging to the hotel. You must dress well if you come inside the hotel lobby.
Papua New Guinea has a population of less than four million, yet there are over 700 different languages in use. With this kind of mutual incomprehension it’s no surprise that a lingua franca has developed. Called Tok Pidgin, it’s mostly based on simplified English, and is interesting and occasionally hilarious.
yumi = we
ples bilong yu we? = where are you from?
wantok = friend (one talk)
mi no klia gut = I don’t understand
bugarup = doesn’t work/broken
haus monie = bank
numba wan pikinini bilong missas Kwin = Prince Charles
bigpela mixmasta bilong Jisas Krais = Helicopter
bigpela yu paitim tit e crai owt = Piano (fight/pat his teeth)
lukim yu bihain = see you later