The settlement of the area of Papua New Guinea probably began as early as 40,000 BC. over the then existing land bridge from Southeast Asia.
The Portuguese Jorge de Meneses was the first European to enter the island in 1526 and called it “Ilhas dos papuas” (Island of the Frizzy Heads). In 1546, the Spanish navigator Inigo Ortiz de Retez took possession of the island for the Spanish crown and gave it the name “Nueva Guinea”. The coastal areas and the offshore islands have been repeatedly visited by explorers such as Abel Tasman and Louis Antoine de Bougainville, but the interior of the island of New Guinea has remained largely unexplored.
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In the mid-17th century, the Dutch East Indian trading company tried unsuccessfully to occupy the resource-rich island of New Guinea. Around a century later, the Englishman James Cook landed on the east coast of the island and took possession of it for the British crown (1770). British settlers started planting coffee and cocoa plantations here.
In the first half of the 19th century, the Netherlands renewed their ownership of the island: in 1828 they occupied the western part (the 141st longitude was defined as the exact limit in 1885) and incorporated it into the Dutch-Indian colony.
In the eastern part of the island, the “German New Guinea Society”, founded in 1880, competed with British colonial power and took possession of the northeastern part of New Guinea as “Kaiser Wilhelm Land”. In 1884 it was agreed to divide the eastern part of the island between Germany (northeast) and Great Britain (southeast). The upstream Bismarck Archipelago was added to the “Kaiser Wilhelm Land”.
In 1887 Great Britain officially declared the southeastern part of New Guinea the crown colony “British New Guinea”. In 1906 the area was renamed “Territory of Papua” and placed under Australian administration. After the outbreak of the First World War, Australian troops also occupied the northeastern part of New Guinea (Kaiser Wilhelm Land). After the end of the war, both parts of the country were placed under Australian administration as trust areas by the League of Nations (together with the Bismarck Archipelago, the western Solomon Islands and Nauru).
World War II and independence
During the Second World War, the island was the scene of many battles between Japanese troops and the Allied forces. In 1946, the two areas in the east of the island were declared trust areas of the United Nations (UN) and again placed under Australian administration. In 1949 the “Papua and New Guinea Act” merged and managed the two eastern parts of the country. The western part of the island remained Dutch and was controlled by Indonesia from 1963 (Irian Jaya since 1973).
According to AbbreviationFinder, Eastern New Guinea was gradually granted independence: an elected parliament met for the first time in Port Moresby in 1964 after limited internal self-government was granted. In 1971, Eastern New Guinea was given the name “Papua New Guinea”. In the same year, the country, along with Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, West Samoa, Tonga and Nauru, was one of the founders of the “South Pacific Forum”, which aimed to promote closer economic and political cooperation in the region.
In 1973 Papua New Guinea received full internal autonomy, on September 16, 1975 the country became independent as a parliamentary monarchy within the British Commonwealth of Nations. The British monarch thus remained the head of state and was represented by a governor general. Michael Somare became the country’s first prime minister and thus head of government.
Bougainville’s struggle for autonomy
Only a short time later, the resource-rich island of Bougainville (which naturally belongs to the Solomon Islands) unilaterally declared itself an autonomous republic. The conflict between the central government and the rebels on the island of Bougainville should continue until 1998 and be a heavy burden for the young state. After the underground organization “Bougainville Revolutionary Army” (BRA) took control of all of Bougainville in 1988 and stopped the production of copper mines, it declared the island unilaterally independent. Bloody fighting between rebels and government troops occurred several times, and an estimated 20,000 people were killed by 1998. An armistice agreement was signed in 1994 and a transitional government was set up in Bougainville in 1995. However, the fighting continued. A peace agreement was reached in 1998, and another treaty in March 2000 provided for gradual self-government for the island. In June 2001, the management of the BRA agreed to disarm its organization, in return the government troops were withdrawn from the island.
Development since the 1990s
The rebels’ closure of the copper mines on Bougainville in 1988 led to a further increase in Papua New Guinea’s external debt. In 1995, Australia, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund adopted an aid program to stabilize the economy. The effects of the “El Niño” climate phenomenon, which led to a severe drought on the island in 1997, led to a drastic deterioration in the living conditions of the population, including high air pollution due to the numerous forest fires. Natural phenomena such as earthquakes and tidal waves (eg 1998) also pose a constant threat (New Guinea is in a tectonically particularly active region).
In July 1999 Mekere Morauta took over from the former Premier Bill Skate. He declared the reduction of foreign debt and corruption in the state apparatus as his goals. Sir Michael Somare followed in office in 2002. The Somare government took decisive measures to reduce the budget deficit after taking office and had budget surpluses in 2004 and 2005. As a result, Somare’s National Alliance Party (NAP) rose significantly in the July 2007 general election, and Somare was re-elected head of government in August. Because of Somare’s illness, the official affairs have been carried out by a deputy since April 2011. Prime Minister since August 2011 is Peter O’Neill. Combating widespread corruption remains one of the country’s greatest challenges. A constitutional amendment passed in September 2013 increases the requirements for votes of no confidence and is intended to ensure more continuity in the government. The future of the Autonomous Province of Bougainville remains unclear.