Cultural Sensitivities: Understanding Local Norms In Papua New Guinea - Answers & Video

Cultural Sensitivities: Understanding Local Norms In Papua New Guinea

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Cultural Sensitivities: Understanding Local Norms in Papua New Guinea

Papua New Guinea is a culturally diverse country located in the southwestern Pacific Ocean. With over 800 languages spoken and a rich history, the country is home to a wide range of cultural practices and traditions. Understanding and respecting the local norms and sensitivities is crucial for anyone visiting or interacting with the people of Papua New Guinea. This article aims to provide a comprehensive guide to help visitors navigate the cultural landscape of Papua New Guinea.

Traditional Customs and Etiquette

  • Respect for Elders: In Papua New Guinea, elders hold a revered position in society. It is important to show respect by addressing them using appropriate titles and using formal language.
  • It is customary to greet elders with a handshake, followed by a slight bow, as a sign of respect.

  • Gift Giving: Gift giving is an integral part of the Papua New Guinean culture. When visiting someone’s home or a village, it is customary to bring a small gift as a token of appreciation. Gifts such as food items or traditional artifacts are well-received.
  • Ensure that the gifts are wrapped neatly and presented with both hands as a sign of respect.

  • Taboos and Sacred Sites: Papua New Guinea has numerous sacred sites and cultural taboos that should be respected. These sites hold great significance to the local communities and are often off-limits to outsiders.
  • It is essential to seek permission from local authorities or community leaders before entering any sacred sites.

  • Dress Code: When visiting Papua New Guinea, it is important to dress modestly and respectfully. Avoid wearing revealing clothing, particularly when visiting rural areas or attending traditional ceremonies.
  • Wearing traditional clothing, such as a bilum (a woven bag) or a meri blouse (a traditional women’s blouse), is highly appreciated and shows respect for the local culture.

Social Interactions and Communication

  • Greetings: Greetings play a significant role in Papua New Guinean culture. It is customary to greet others with a warm smile and a friendly handshake.
  • Take the time to greet each person individually, as it is considered impolite to rush through greetings.

  • Body Language: Non-verbal communication is important in Papua New Guinea. Maintaining eye contact during conversations is a sign of respect and attentiveness.
  • Avoid pointing directly at someone with your finger, as it is considered rude. Instead, use an open hand or a nod to indicate someone or something.

  • Personal Space: Personal space may vary among different cultural groups in Papua New Guinea. It is important to observe and respect personal boundaries.
  • Before initiating physical contact, such as hugging or touching, ensure that it is welcomed and appropriate within the specific cultural context.

  • Communication Style: Papua New Guineans value indirect communication and often rely on non-verbal cues and context to convey messages. It is important to listen attentively and observe body language to fully understand the intended meaning.
  • Be patient and avoid interrupting others during conversations, as it is considered impolite.

Food and Dining Etiquette

  • Sharing Meals: Food plays a central role in Papua New Guinean culture, and sharing meals is a common practice. When invited to someone’s home for a meal, it is customary to accept the invitation and participate in the communal dining experience.
  • Ensure that you taste a bit of everything served to show appreciation for the host’s hospitality.

  • Etiquette at Traditional Feasts: Traditional feasts, known as “sing-sings,” are important cultural events in Papua New Guinea. When attending a sing-sing, it is essential to follow the customs and protocols set by the community.
  • Observe how others eat and interact during the feast, and follow their lead.

  • Food Offerings: When visiting a local village, it is common for the host to offer food as a gesture of hospitality. Accepting the food and tasting it is a sign of respect.
  • Even if the food is unfamiliar, try a small portion to show appreciation for the host’s efforts.

  • Table Manners: When dining in formal settings, it is important to observe proper table manners. Wait for the host to begin eating before you start, and avoid reaching across the table.
  • Use utensils appropriately and follow the lead of the locals when it comes to eating customs.

Religious and Spiritual Practices

  • Religious Diversity: Papua New Guinea is a country with diverse religious beliefs, including Christianity, traditional indigenous beliefs, and Islam. Respect for different religious practices is crucial.
  • Avoid criticizing or disrespecting any religious beliefs or practices, even if they differ from your own.

  • Visiting Places of Worship: If you wish to visit a church or any religious site, it is advisable to dress modestly and behave respectfully. Remove your shoes if required and follow any specific customs or rituals.
  • Seek permission before taking photographs or participating in religious ceremonies.

  • Traditional Ceremonies: Papua New Guinea is known for its vibrant traditional ceremonies and rituals. If you have the opportunity to witness or participate in such events, approach them with respect and a willingness to learn.
  • Observe and follow the instructions of the local hosts or elders during the ceremonies.

  • Sacred Objects and Artifacts: Papua New Guinea has a rich artistic heritage, including sacred objects and artifacts. These items hold spiritual significance and should be treated with utmost respect.
  • Avoid touching or handling sacred objects without permission, and refrain from purchasing or collecting items that may be considered culturally sensitive or sacred.

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Papua New Guinea

Gender Roles and Cultural Sensitivities

  • Gender Equality: While Papua New Guinea has made progress towards gender equality, traditional gender roles still exist in many communities. It is important to be mindful of these cultural sensitivities.
  • Respect local customs and avoid imposing your own beliefs or expectations on gender roles.

  • Modesty and Dress: Modesty is highly valued in Papua New Guinean culture. Dressing conservatively, particularly for women, is important to avoid causing offense or attracting unwanted attention.
  • Avoid wearing revealing clothing or swimwear outside of designated areas, such as beaches or resorts.

  • Respecting Personal Boundaries: Personal boundaries, particularly between men and women, vary across different cultural groups in Papua New Guinea. It is important to respect these boundaries and avoid any behavior that may be perceived as inappropriate.
  • Observe and follow the lead of the locals when it comes to personal interactions and physical contact.

  • Engaging with Local Women: When interacting with local women, it is important to be respectful and considerate. Avoid making assumptions or generalizations based on cultural stereotypes.
  • Engage in conversations and interactions with a genuine interest in learning and understanding different perspectives.

Environmental Awareness and Conservation

  • Nature and Wildlife: Papua New Guinea is renowned for its rich biodiversity and unique ecosystems. It is crucial to respect and preserve the natural environment.
  • Avoid littering, damaging coral reefs, or disturbing wildlife while engaging in activities such as snorkeling or hiking.

  • Protected Areas: Papua New Guinea has numerous protected areas, national parks, and marine reserves. These areas are vital for the conservation of endemic species and cultural heritage.
  • Observe and adhere to any rules or regulations set by the authorities when visiting these protected areas.

  • Sustainable Practices: Embrace sustainable practices during your visit to Papua New Guinea. Choose eco-friendly accommodations, support local conservation initiatives, and be mindful of your water and energy consumption.
  • Engage in responsible tourism and leave a minimal ecological footprint.

  • Traditional Ecological Knowledge: Indigenous communities in Papua New Guinea possess valuable traditional ecological knowledge. Respect and learn from their wisdom in managing natural resources and maintaining ecological balance.
  • Engage in cultural exchanges that promote environmental awareness and conservation.

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Papua New Guinea

Health and Safety Considerations

  • Health Precautions: Before traveling to Papua New Guinea, it is advisable to consult a healthcare professional regarding necessary vaccinations and health precautions.
  • Carry any required medications and take necessary precautions to prevent mosquito-borne illnesses.

  • Security and Safety: Like any travel destination, it is important to be aware of your surroundings and take necessary safety precautions in Papua New Guinea.
  • Stay informed about current safety conditions and follow any travel advisories issued by your government.

  • Respecting Local Laws: Familiarize yourself with the local laws and regulations of Papua New Guinea. Respect and abide by these laws to avoid any legal issues.
  • Avoid participating in illegal activities, including drug use or possession.

  • Emergency Services: Familiarize yourself with the emergency contact numbers and locations of medical facilities in Papua New Guinea. It is advisable to have travel insurance that covers medical emergencies.
  • Keep important documents, such as passports and identification, in a secure place.

Cultural Sensitivity in Photography

  • Seek Permission: When taking photographs of people, particularly in rural areas or during cultural events, it is essential to seek permission before capturing their images.
  • Respect the wishes of those who do not wish to be photographed.

  • Respect Privacy: Avoid taking intrusive or disrespectful photographs. Respect the cultural sensitivities and privacy of individuals and communities.
  • Do not take photographs of sacred rituals or ceremonies unless explicitly permitted.

  • Share with Respect: If you plan to share your photographs online or in publications, ensure that they are shared in a respectful and responsible manner.
  • Avoid sensationalizing or misrepresenting the culture or people of Papua New Guinea.

  • Support Local Artisans: When purchasing souvenirs or artworks, consider supporting local artisans and communities. Ensure that the items are ethically sourced and respect cultural traditions.
  • Avoid purchasing counterfeit or mass-produced items that undermine local craftsmanship.

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Papua New Guinea


Papua New Guinea offers a rich cultural tapestry for visitors to explore. By understanding and respecting the local norms and sensitivities, you can have a meaningful and enriching experience in this diverse country. Remember to approach interactions with an open mind, be respectful, and embrace the opportunity to learn from the people of Papua New Guinea.


– Papua New Guinea Tourism Promotion Authority:
– Lonely Planet Papua New Guinea:
– Cultural Survival:
– National Geographic:
– Papua New Guinea Information:

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