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Ethnicity, Language, & Religion of Papua New Guinea

Ethnicity

Papua New Guinea is a very diverse country and today there are ethnic Melanesians, Papuans, Negritos, Micronesians, and Europeans among others. The Melanesians, who are likely the descendants of the Papuans and Austronesians, occupy parts of Papua New Guinea and many nearby island nations, including Solomon Islands and Vanuatu. Today the people of these two nations are the Melanesian's closest relatives.

The Papuans are not technically an ethnic group, but are a linguistic group who speak Papuan languages. Despite this, many of these people consider themselves ethnically Papuan as well, which is truly a term that includes anyone who speaks a Papuan language. Despite this linguistic definition, most Papuans are closely related, although there are some Papuan-speaking Austronesians in the country who consider themselves Papuan, but are ethnically Austronesian.

The Negritos are an ethnic group that is quite distinct in the world as their origins are unknown; some people believe they arrived to the region prior to the Austronesians, while others believe they are related more closely to the Melanesians and Austronesians, but have since undergone numerous genetic variations, making them quite different from these people. Either way, the Negritos can be found in parts of Papua New Guinea and in other isolated parts of Asia as their closest relatives are these other isolated groups, which include many of the people in India's Andaman Islands.

Language

Papua New Guinea is so diverse the country is home to over 10% of all the world's languages as there are over 800 indigenous languages spoken. Many of these languages only have a small number of native speakers as Tok Pisin is truly the language of communication in the country, although English and Hiri Motu are also officially recognized languages.

Tok Pisin is a creole language that has become the main language of communication because nearly everyone speaks and understands this language, although in some areas this creole is relatively new and the older population hasn't learned it. In the past this creole has only been a secondary language, but as it has become a language of communication, many people are now growing up as native speakers. Tok Pisin was created when Papuans and other people from the region went to Australia and other islands to work. They integrated English (and to a lesser degree other European languages) with their many (primarily) Melanesian languages, creating Tok Pisin. The language is based on English, but is also related to Bislama in Vanuatu and Pisin in the Solomon Islands as both of these languages have a similar history and are creoles based on English.

Hiri Motu, the other official language in Papua New Guinea and is a combination of languages, most notably Motu. Despite being an officially recognized language, its use is on the decline and only about 2% of the population can speak or understand this language.

Among the hundreds of other languages spoken in Papua New Guinea, most are related to and fall into the Austronesian language family.

Religion

Almost everyone in Papua New Guinea is Christian, although about 4% of the people continue to adhere to indigenous religions. Among the most common Christian religions are Catholicism, Evangelical Lutheranism, the United Church, and Seventh-Day Adventists.

This page was last updated: May, 2014