unSEEN Peek™ – Woman from West Highland Province participating in the annual Mount Hagen Festival which has united Papua New Guinea’s tribes since Independence in 1961.

Her wondrous afro hair holds Bird of Paradise feathers and her forehead and neck showcase adornments crafted from Job’s Tears, a grain that gives utility as both a source of food and article of artisanship.

The 2018 Hagen Show will take place in Kagamuga, Mount Hagen between August 17th and 19th.

ERIC LAFFORGUE is a French photographer whose global work documenting diverse peoples and cultures bears a hallmark ethnographic style.

His photographs often illustrate articles in magazines and newspapers including Lonely Planet Magazine and the National Geographic.

In 2008, Lafforgue’s work capturing the people of Papua was showcased at the illustrious VISA photojournalism festival in Perpignan.

He is also a Sony Ambassador.

Girl with Frangipane Halo. Autonomous Region Of Bougainville, Papua New Guinea. © Eric Lafforgue

The original article was my Hidden Voices™ column debut and published in The Voice newspaper on Thursday 14th February 2013. 

It was a shorter edit and the supporting photographs of Papua Islanders that Eric Lafforgue licensed to AFRICA: Seen & Heard Ltd were replaced with the Editor’s choice of stock images.

The uncut article below allows the deeper exploration and illumination of Women’s and Girls’ Rights in Papua New Guinea.

The Human Rights Watch World Report 2017: Papua New Guinea states that:

“Papua New Guinea is one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a woman, with the majority of women experiencing rape or assault in their lifetime and women facing systemic discrimination.”

It was inspiring to interview Madam Winnie Kiap, who is currently the Papua New Guinea High Commissioner to the United Kingdom and concurrently accredited as High Commissioner to the Republic of Cyprus and the Republic of South Africa; and as Ambassador to the Arab Republic of Egypt, the State of Israel and the Republic of Zimbabwe.

Papua New Guinea’s overseas diplomatic missions are styled as Kundu Missions; the location of the Mission is preceded by the word KUNDU, the Tok Pisin (one of Papua New Guinea’s three lingua francas) word for a variety of drum.

The kundu drum is constructed from hollowed wood and lizard skin and varies by region in terms of size and decoration although its shape remains uniform. The drum is an instrument much like the African Talking Drum and transmits messages from village to village and announces many events including births and deaths.

Illustration of the Papua New Guinea national emblem as it appears on coinage.

It features in the Papua New Guinea National Crest alongside the other national emblem the Bird of Paradise.

The kundu drum is used in celebration to signify “the importance and status of an individual or a tribe and their position in the community.”

Madam Kiap‘s continuing efforts to champion the importance of females, protect them as individuals and as a group and enhance their status and position in Papua New Guinea society is a mission I greatly respect.

With committed indigenous and global support this vital mission to improve Girls’ and Women’s Rights could be fully accomplished.

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In an age of information, with most frontiers conquered and explored, Papua New Guinea (PNG) is one of the few countries to still hold a veil of mystery across its cultural allure.

The Oceanic nation is 160km north of Australia and occupies the eastern half of the Pacific island of New Guinea.

Papua-New-Guinea-physical-Map (2)

“Our part of the world is not very well known in the UK,” stated Her Excellency Madam Winnie Kiap, The Papua New Guinea High Commissioner to the UK during a cordial interview with A:S&H.

As one of the world’s least culturally and geographically explored nations, Madam Kiap gives voice to the history, culture and industry of PNG and welcomes connecting PNG to wider Black & African global cultures.

Although PNG’s capital Port Moresby is 11,131 miles away from Conakry, a connection was made in 1545: Spanish explorer Yñigo Ortiz de Retez likened the islanders’ appearance to the inhabitants of Africa’s Guinea coast and named the island ‘Nueva Guinea’.

NOVA GUINEA – The First Map of New Guinea 1600. (Portuguese and Spanish hemispheres). Source: The First Discovery of Australia
and New Guinea. Published 1906

PNG is a fast-developing modern country whose African-originated ancient inhabitants left the mother continent 50,000-70,000 years ago and migrated to the island via Southeast Asia.

It is a Commonwealth Realm country and one of the world’s most culturally diverse and rural nations. Over 800 languages are spoken and 85% of the 7 million population make their living from semi-subsistence agriculture. Many remote tribes have only marginal contact with the outside world.

The UK’s Papua New Guinean community is small with around 150 members.

“There is very little known about PNG in the UK particularly in the business sector, but that’s a relationship that we have to establish.”

PNG trades with the UK directly and via the EU. Some of the canned fish, coffee and cocoa products you consume may be of Papua New Guinean provenance. PNG is currently in the process of establishing a palm oil refinery in Liverpool. Their trading and investment partners include Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines; PNG is confident of becoming a member of the ASEAN trading bloc in due course.

Gas is a recent discovery. “There is a lot of money that will come into the country when we begin to export gas in 2014… It’s not only for the living, it’s for the future generations as well.”

Papua New Guinea’s liquefied natural gas (LNG) project was constructed at an on record cost of USD19Billion and is the Asia-Pacific region’s largest resource extraction project. ExxonMobil PNG suspended non-essential work in November 2017 due to Highland community unrest linked to political grievances and royalty payment disputes.

Madam Kiap and I discussed PNG’s economic terrain in great detail, including the irony that PNG’s most profitable export, palm oil originated in West Africa.

PNG’s fertile soil and cultural commitment to organic farming has resulted in exceptional coffee and cocoa which is exported and praised globally.

15% of the world’s cocoa supply is produced in PNG and holds “Fine Flavor” status.

Sugar is native to PNG & is very prominent in the Caribbean, I don’t know who stole it and took it over there.” Madam Kiap quipped when asked if PNG had its own signature spirit.

The Australian colonisers suppressed PNG’s sugar industry so that the islanders would be a market for their own products. The sugar industry is fledgling, so in due course PNG may join the Diasporean rum-producing family.

“Our business sector is not really made up of Papua New Guineans, most of the businesses are expatriate owned.”

As in many parts of Africa and the Caribbean, the women of PNG are the backbone of the economy, growing crops and selling them in central markets, whilst raising the generation that will allow PNG’s development to take further leaps forward.

Free education until secondary (and perhaps tertiary) level will begin later in 2013 and ensure that girls have access to education they were once denied; when paying fees, parents have always given precedence to male children.

“We are most certainly developing a middle-class now who are Papua New Guineans and those people are quite smart. – People owning their own homes, money to travel, they start businesses and will probably see the value of going back to the rural areas and finding what is there.”

Migration from rural areas into urban centres has been a social concern as many entering the labour market are not equipped with the skills required to gain employment. “I think there is a level of confusion in us, we see the Western way of living and think that it is attractive.”

2 winnies png
TWO WINNIES, ONE EMPOWERING CONVERSATION: Madam Winnie Kiap and Winifred Adeyemi during the 2013 interview at the Papua New Guinea High Commission, London.

Madam Kiap maintains that equilibrium is imperative to the development of PNG and sagely appraised the pros and cons of the modern industries such as mining and large-scale agriculture upon traditional cultures and communities and natural habitats.

The soul of the Papua New Guineans lies in their connection to the ocean and land.

“The forest provided mystery and a lot of our beliefs are also tied up with the forest and things of the forest.”

Conservation efforts are taken seriously and the Asian aphrodisiac and delicacy beche-de-mer (a rare variety of sea cucumber) can only be harvested by Papua New Guineans during strict annual cycles.

The spectacular birds of paradise can only be hunted by bow and arrow for traditional purposes.

PNG has one of the highest levels of domestic violence in the world, which Madam Kiap explained stems from the “bride price” custom. “In PNG that is used as reason or excuse or mandate for the man to have almost complete jurisdiction over the woman.” Madam Kiap is a director of the Coalition for Change PNG Inc., an advocacy group committed to ensuring legislative change and advocacy programmes in an attempt to reduce or eliminate violence within the family.

Madam Kiap believes that educating women is the beginning to ending the social scourge and has credited social media with empowering younger women to break the cycle of violence.

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Madam Kiap expounded upon the dual-nature of a woman’s life in modern PNG:

I am a woman and I have a voice and I’m in charge of a lot of people, some of them are men. I have control over them and then on holidays I step back into where I was born, I have no voice whatsoever. My younger brother has a voice, I don’t. I may instruct him before he goes out into the village square to give a speech, but I have no voice whatsoever. So we still move between these two worlds.”

Her Excellency experienced sexism and obstruction on her 1992 return to PNG from Australia, but overcame it to reach her present high office of High Commissioner to the UK, Cyprus and South Africa and Ambassador to Egypt, Israel and Zimbabwe.

I always thought of myself as an individual, I have a job to do, I have to do the work. At one stage sexist attitude caused me to resign from a job, but I also had to deal with the problem because of my female staff.”

Our conversation turned to the feminine arena of cuisine as I remarked that PNG’s forests sound like a cross between Eden & Willy Wonka’s factory.

PNG has fruits found in Africa, South America and the Caribbean and unique indigenous treats including the bukubuk, lychee-like ton and spectacular ketchup-producing marita.

I asked Madam Kiap about the tantalising botanical delights which entice me to book a flight: bullock’s heart, clymenia, mundroi, rukam, velvet apples…

“When I was growing up we would mash sweet potato or cassava and mix it with marita… On my island we have spices: the spice that is the national emblem of Grenada [nutmeg], we have it. It’s just growing wild in the forest but we don’t use it as a spice.”

Papua New Guinea is an “as above, so below” heaven offering tourists experiences straight from fantastic dreams: feathered starfish flutter beneath the Pacific Ocean like the wings of the island’s fabled birds of paradise. New species of flora and fauna are found each year.

PNG hosts a wealth of annual cultural events: the Mount Hagen Festival Cultural Festival gathers over 100 tribal groups (17-18th August 2013) and the National Canoe & Kundu Festival blends the best of the Milne Bay province’s traditional sailing and drumming (1st-3rd Nov. 2013).

In 2015, PNG will host the multi-sport Pacific Games -which is likened to a small scale Olympics- drawing national participants from the South Pacific region. The Games should have a transformative effect on PNG politics and infrastructure.

Pan-Africanist American historian, Dr. John Henrik Clarke ruminated “I have found much to my surprise, the Africans in the Pacific have a healthier attitude towards African Unity than the Africans in Africa, the Africans in the Caribbean and the Africans in the United States.”

“Obviously we came from Africa. the whole Pacific came through Southeast Asia but we may be the first lot that came through and then maybe the Polynesians after us.” Madam Kiap spoke warmly of the modern relationship between Africa and Papua New Guinea.

“Early on in the 60s and 70s we actually imported a lot of university teachers from Africa, from all over – Nigeria included – so in the way of education, Africa did have a lot of influence on us. I think we still have a lot of Africans in PNG as we speak; in our training institutions.”

Madam Kiap told how a young Papua New Guinea citizen of African descent visited the High Commission to gain a visa for his African born wife. “I thought that was very interesting as he chose to take the PNG citizenship.”

“We are aware that Africa is there. There is no way that we cannot be aware of Africa. Are we being curious enough to want to go and see how similar or different culturally life is over there?” Madam Kiap says that Papua New Guineans do not have enough curiosity and that the distance is also a factor, but she would like to see cultural exchange occur between Africans from the continent and Diaspora within the Americas, the Caribbean and Europe and native Papua New Guineans.

“I would like to see a closer relationship. When we became independent we looked very much to Africa for training and I think we need to renew all these things, revive all these things.”

A:S&H is dedicated to creating connections between the diverse nations in the global African Diaspora and can’t wait to step foot on PNG’s rich cultural soil. We hope in time you will too…

© W. O. Adeyemi/ AFRICA: Seen & Heard Ltd and africaseenheard.wordpress.com, 2018. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to W. O. Adeyemi, AFRICA: Seen & Heard and africaseenheard.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


Aerial photo of Papua New Guinea coast © Oksana Byelikova.

READ The First Discovery of Australia and New Guinea: Being The Narrative of Portuguese and Spanish Discoveries in the Australasian Regions, between the Years 1492-1606, with Descriptions of their Old Charts. By George Collingridge De Tourcey, M.C.R.G.S., of Australasia published 1906 http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks05/0501051h.html

PLAN your trip to Papua New Guinea: http://www.papuanewguinea.travel/

APPLY for your PNG Visa which must be obtained before travelling: http://www.pnghighcomm.org.uk/visas

CONTRACT ORCHID FEVER across the PNG border in Western New Guinea. Western New Guinea is part of the island of New Guinea and was annexed by Indonesia in 1962.

Papua New Guinea is home to an abundance of exotic plants, many of which have still to be discovered. As one of the world’s last biological frontiers, the island of New Guinea remains fascinating and legendary amongst botanists and a wondrous terrain for adventurous tourists to explore.

STUDY the WILD AND CULTIVATED FRUITS AND NUTS of PNG – Perhaps you live in the correct climate to grow your own Peanut Butter Tree (Bunchosia species)or Ice Cream Beans (Inga species) or would appreciate the recipes for Ackee Soufflé and Plantain Honey Crumble… http://rfcarchives.org.au/Next/PeoplePlaces/PNGFruitsNuts11-87.htm From the Archives of The Rare Fruit Council of Australia

PLANT your own “Garden of Eden” at home in your temperate country, if PNG seems like a too far away dream, you can commune with it fruitfully in your own home ground. Grow your own exotic fruits or shop seasonally at specialist grocers in your city:

SEE & HEAR the 39 species of Bird of Paradise indigenous to Papua New Guinea:

LEARN more about PNG’s National Bird and its natural environment:

READ the HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH Report 2018: PAPUA NEW GUINEA – https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2018/country-chapters/papua-new-guinea

FIGHT to end Domestic Violence in Papua New Guinea #BeBoldForChange

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