Nation in the SW Pacific Ocean, independent since 1975, occupying the eastern half of the island of New Guinea and including a number of island s: the Bismarck Archipelago, the D’Entrecasteaux Island s, the Louisiade archipelago, Samarai Island , the Trobriand Island s, and the northernmost Solomon Island s of Buka and Bougainville. Largely tropical, New Guinea is a land of rugged mountains and thick forests, containing exotic plant and animal life. Much of it is still unexplored. Native arts and crafts have attracted attention in recent years; and although cannibalism and headhunting seem to have disappeared, tribal warfare still goes on. There are some 700 linguistic groups in the area, and so pidgin English has become the lingua franca. Agriculture and the mining of various metals are the main industries, wooden digging sticks and mammoth mining machines both being in use. Port Moresby is the capital and a modern city that contrasts sharply with the primitive tribal villages of the interior.
New Guinea was probably first sighted in 1511 by an explorer from Portugal, Antonio d’Abreu, and named for its resemblance to the Guinea coast of West Africa. Papua, the southern section of Papua New Guinea, was annexed by Queensland in 1883, and the next year the British proclaimed a protectorate over it. In 1905 it came under the control of Australia as the Territory of Papua. The northern region became German New Guinea in 1884, was occupied by Australian forces in World War I, and became an Australian mand ated territory in 1920 as the Territory of New Guinea. In 1949 the two territories were merged for administrative purposes. During World War II the region was the scene of an intense struggle between the Japanese and the Allies. Japan captured Lae and Rabaul in early 1942, but the latter was so heavily bombed that it was of little use to the Japanese, while Lae was retaken by the Australians in September 1943. Port Moresby was the chief Allied base on New Guinea. On December 1, 1973, the two sections became self-governing as Papua New Guinea, which on September 16, 1975, became completely independent and a member of the Commonwealth of Nations. In the late 1980s an armed secessionist movement broke out on Bougainville. A cease-fire, monitored by Australia, went into effect in 1998, and a peace accord that granted the island broad autonomy was signed in 2001. A weeklong mutiny broke out in 2001 over proposed cuts in defense forces as result of economic reforms demand ed by Australia and international organizations. Sir Michael Somare, of the National Alliance Party, was elected prime minister in 2002.