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Papua (Papua New Guinea) Profile
Estimated to have been first settled more than 40,000 years ago, the first recorded sighting by Europeans was in 1512 by two Portuguese explorers. Dutch explorers followed and named it New Guinea because of its perceived similarities to Africa.
When Europeans first arrived, inhabitants of Papua and its nearby islands, while still relying on bone, wood, and stone tools, had a very productive agricultural system. They traded along the coast, where products mainly were pottery, shell ornaments, and foodstuffs, and in the interior, where forest products were exchanged for shells and other sea products.
Apart from areas where missionaries and traders exerted their influence, many tiny, independent villages account for most of the island’s traditions and cultural heritage that is preserved today.
Toward the end of the 1900s, the country was divided between three nations – the Dutch, the Germans and the British. In 1905, Australia took over the British sector, naming it “the territory of Papua” and then captured the German sector during WWI. The country became fully independent in 1975 and is now a member of the British Commonwealth.
The western half of the island of Papua (known as West Papua), which had been colonized by the Dutch, became an Indonesian province in 1969 and is today struggling to regain its own independence.
CIA Factbook link to more demographic, geographic and economic data for Papua: