History and Major Events
Archaeologists believe that humans arrived
on Papua New Guinea some 50,000 years ago,
presumably by sea from Southeast Asia. A
Spanish navigator, Don Jorge de Meneses,
is credited with naming it "Papua"
a Malay word for the frizziness of Melanesian
hair. The term "New Guinea" was
applied to the island in 1545 by a Spaniard,
Ynigo Ortis de Retez, because of a similarity
between the islands' indigenous people and
those found on the African Guinea coast.
European traders, adventurers and gold
explorers visited in the 16th and 17th centuries,
but land claims did not begin until 1828,
when the Dutch took control of the western
half of New Guinea, now Irian Jaya. Due
to the rugged terrain and isolated village
communities, the impact of colonization
varied throughout the nation.
Prior to World War II, Papua New Guinea
was two separate territories. The territory
of Papua was a British colony until 1884,
and was later ceded to Australia to administer.
New Guinea was part of the pre-World War
I German Empire, but it, too, was given
to Australia to administer at the end of
World War I. During World War II, Japanese
forces occupied PNG. Following the war,
and the expulsion of Japanese forces, the
two territories were amalgamated into one,
which became known as the Territory of Papua
and New Guinea.
Australia focused its efforts on developing
PNG's cash economy and the democratization
of the central government. The Papua and
New Guinea Act of 1949 provided for a Legislative
Council, judicial system, a civil service
and a local government system. A generally
protectionist policy pervaded and characterized
Australia's efforts in the 1950s. In 1964,
the first House of Assembly was established
to provide Papua New Guineans a greater
role in the country's political decision-making
process. With domestic and international
pressure for independence mounting, preparations
for political independence began in earnest
in the late 1960s and into the 1970s.
In 1972, Michael Somare became Chief Minister
of a democratically elected government,
and in 1973 the country was administratively
unified and renamed Papua New Guinea. Independence
came to the nation on September 16, 1975.