First Contact in Papua New Guinea… One of the most intriguing aspects of this unique and special country are the highland people of New Guinea island.
It seems incredible that first contact in Papua New Guinea with these highland people was just over 80 years ago.
Under Australian rule, colonization of Papua New Guinea was limited to the coastal areas. There had been virtually no real attempt to explore or map out the rugged and mountainous interior. It was simply assumed that because the highland terrain was so difficult, nobody could possibly be living there.
Yet, up in those highlands was a complete ecosystem of people completely disconnected from the outside world!
First Contact in PNG – Michael Leahy
First contact in Papua New Guinea with those highlands people was made by an Australian prospector called Michael Leahy, from rural Queensland. Leahy, his brother Dan and Patrol Officer James Taylor had been sent to look for gold in the highlands. Together, they spent four years exploring the highland region looking for the precious metal.
Incredibly, given that it was 1932, Leahy owned a Leica camera and took an extensive series of photographs. Hence a unique visual record into an amazing series of events was established! Michael Leahy also fully documented his experiences on the expedition in a daily journal.
The assumption that the highland area was deserted was based on the chain of mountains which runs east to west across the country. So they appeared to form an impenetrable barrier that effectively isolated the north coast from the south.
Unknown was the fact that there are actually (in very simple terms…) two parallel mountain chains. And in between them are a series of fertile valleys which were populated by a large number of highland people.
The highlanders lived very parochially in thousands of small communities. Each having its own network of enemies and allies.
So there was very limited travel in the highlands themselves and nobody had ventured out.
The fertile soils of the valley provided the communities with what they needed. And it was just too dangerous to travel outside the safety of their tribal territory.
So there was a kind of “Lost World” of people completely isolated from the rest of the world. Living what was basically a stone age existence.
First Contact in PNG – Bob Connolly
Michael Leahy’s journals and images were discovered in 1983 by Australian writers and filmmakers Bob Connolly and Robyn Anderson.
So fascinated were they by the discovery they went on to make the award-winning documentary First Contact. They also wrote an excellent book of the same name.
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