The flag of Papua New Guinea
The flag of Papua New Guinea

Tomorrow marks another year of being a sovereign nation for Papua New Guinea. 36 years ago Sir Michael Sana Somare led a group of young vibrant indigenous leaders who became the political fathers of a country newly detached from the bosoms of her mother. Unfortunately, much of what transpired that day is not taught in our school curriculum and most of us are unaware of the interesting history that makes our beloved country. I would like to share a rarely known fact shared by Gabby Kalubaku on the social network Facebook.

What’s in a name?

Few countries have a name with such a long and confusing history as Papua New Guinea. When the first Portuguese explorers came along, they named it Ilhas dos Papuas – Island of the Fuzzy Hairs – from the Malay word papuwah. Later, Dutch explorers called it New Guinea because they were reminded of Guinea in Africa. The German northern part of the island was assigned to Australia as a League of Nations Mandate after WW1 and Australia had to run the two parts as separate colonies or, more correctly, as a colony and a Mandated Trust Territory. After WW2, the two were administered as the Territory of Papua and New Guinea, sometimes written as Papua-New Guinea or Papua/New Guinea. Finally, with independence, the country became simply Papua New Guinea.

In 1968 the South Pacific Post (now Post Courier) held a contest for a more appropriate name. Suggestions included, Genipapu, Pagini, Bikpelaland, Blacksland and Pasifika, but a 10 year old Port Moresby school girl named Ade Asisa won K50 first prize with Niugini, the Pidgin word for Papua New Guinea. The name has been retained by the national airline – Air Niugini.

I hope that by knowing this little piece of history will somehow make this Independence Celebration a bit more meaningful. Happy 36th Independence Celebrations and take care.