God in Papua New Guinea


When I visited Papua New Guinea (PNG) in 1987, and again last month, I saw evidence of many Christian missionaries along with some of the fruits of their labor (both sweet and sour, depending on your point of view). PNG is now one of the most Christian countries in the world. More than 96 percent of its citizens identify as Christian, with Catholicism the largest denomination at 27 percent. Here are some of my PNG observations, then and now.

Then:  I first went to PNG for six months as a visiting professor of mathematics at the University of Papua New Guinea (UPNG) in Port Moresby, the country’s capital and largest city. While in the country, I only traveled outside of Port Moresby to give math talks at universities in Goroka and Lae.

About 800 languages were and still are spoken in PNG, reflecting the isolation of its many tribes. In the 1930s, Australian explorers discovered the Highlands of PNG, home to roughly one million people who had never before encountered Caucasians. In a video I saw of this first contact, one PNG woman said they thought white men were gods, until they had sex with them.

Not only were most students at UPNG the first in their family to go to college, they were the first to leave their tribes. In the tribal “payback” system, if someone from Tribe A is harmed by a member from Tribe B, then members from Tribe A can take revenge against any member from Tribe B. Part of my mission was to inform students that UPNG was a payback-free zone.

One day I encountered a Catholic priest who deplored the “ungodly” sight of bare-breasted women. When I brought up serious problems like wife beating, which was legal at the time, he just shrugged and said he couldn’t change everything. Shortly thereafter, I attended a UPNG beauty pageant with five contestants representing different villages. My colleagues were impressed when I confidently predicted the winner. You see, the primary judge was the priest, and four of the five contestants were bare breasted.

Now: In a recent cultural trip with my wife, Sharon, we traveled to villages along the remote Karawari River, surrounded by dense jungle as far as the horizon, and to villages in the Highlands near Mt. Hagen. We visited places I had only heard about in my previous trip.

Written By: Herb Silverman
continue to source article at washingtonpost.com


  1. One day I encountered a Catholic priest who deplored the “ungodly” sight of bare-breasted women.

    This priest obviously does not KNOW god. I mean god LOVES breasts. He gave women two of them, which is proof enough, but to ice the cake, even us men have them! Men’s are sad sad sad examples, but, if he who is all knowing put tits on men, he must like them to some degree.

    The god thing REALLY likes beetles.There are over 400,000 different types!

  2. Where are all those handwringing professional protectors and respecters of other cultures when it comes to protecting the native tribes from the bullshit of one of the most destructive gangs of cultural vandals in all of history: Christian missionaries?

  3. More than 96 percent of its citizens identify as Christian, with Catholicism the largest denomination at 27 percent.

    When scientists find isolated and different people they want to study them, When religious shite peddlers turn up they want to alter them and fuck about with their heads.

    Is there any evidence that PNGs are happier, healthier, more ‘peaceful’ and ‘moral’ and that any god is looking after them as a result of this interference?

  4. The advantage to the missionary is they bring technology with them which becomes associated with the advertised god. The cargo cults are similar where the focus is purely on the cargo. They also bring new diseases which can be sold as the wrath of the new god.

  5. Jared Diamond’s latest book, ‘The World Until Yesterday’ offers interesting insights into the world of PNG. Having lived and worked there for decades, Diamond knows the people (some of them are his friends) and this makes for a fascinating peek into their world, some of which can be pretty hair-raising!

    It is not surprising that they have taken Christianity and made it their ‘own’, spirits and all.South African blacks manage to retain ancestor worship while calling themselves Christian. Our President the infamous Zuma calls himself Christian and has about 6 wives.Very old testament! Indians who have embraced Christianity still insist on ’40 day ceremonies’ after a death.Admittedly the ceremony is a christian service followed by a meal, but this is not biblical.

    So, as if we don’t already have too many sects,we also have to contend with other weird manifestations of Christianity

  6. Not only is it Christian missionaries who attempt to interfere with the traditions of New Guinea people but Indonesia has been taking New Guinea’s land for years now – Irian Jaya – ever encroaching and spreading its Islamic peace and love…. Tribes of New Guinea are so fascinating and the people are very shy and gentle, head hunting is only one attribute of these people but they are labelled as such, however they are also great farmers, great singers and dancers and very creative people. They are being corrupted by alcohol and drugs from outside sources like mineral mines and tree cutting operations…its very sad…

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