The People of Papua New Guinea, Way of Life
clan members, subsistence agriculture, medical post, Tok Pisin, female line
Most people in villages follow a traditional way of life that revolves around subsistence agriculture and fishing. Extended families are the basic social unit. There are also many tribal groups, subdivided into clans and subclans. These groups help families preserve and transmit the store of traditional knowledge. They support clan members through major events such as birth, marriage, and death. Most villages are led by men, called “big men” in Tok Pisin, who win leadership positions by their own efforts. Hereditary chiefs are rare. The most experienced men in the village normally form a body of decision-makers, and no important actions are taken without their consent. Women typically do the planting. They rarely have much voice in village affairs. In some groups, however, people inherit land through the female line. Villagers live in small houses with frames built of wood, walls made of plaited bamboo strips or leaves, and roofs thatched with grass or palm leaves. Often there is a larger men’s house and separate small cooking houses. Some villages have a medical post and small store.
The lifestyle in urban areas is significantly different. The larger towns and small cities, including Port Moresby, formed during the colonial era. They grew around the port areas that the foreign-owned mines and plantations required for the import and export of goods. Today, these urban areas also serve as local marketplaces and are the sites for government, banking, commercial, and cultural activities. Over time, the native people who have migrated to towns and cities from rural areas have lost their traditional ways of life. They have had to adjust, for example, to living in the cash economy, which requires that they purchase essential goods with currency instead of gathering, growing, or hunting what they need. With fewer family members to help them, people have formed new ties, usually with other migrants who speak their language. Housing in urban areas is scarce and expensive, and many new arrivals live in crowded squatter settlements, usually located on the fringe of the urban area.
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