Gulf Province lies between central and western province next to National Capital District and has supplied many of the people who have become the leaders and organisers of the national life of Papua New Guinea. But Gulf Province itself is one of the least developed of the nineteen provinces. Much of the pattern of land use and many of the activities of its people speak of ancient economic necessity rather than innovation.
Gulf is contradicts a huge, fanned-out coastal plain, covered in forests and well-endowed with swamps and waterways. As its name implies, it is the hinterland of a great, curving bay, the Gulf of Papua, with its 640 miles of coastline and its rich stock of prawns and other marine creatures. Inland, the province extends up to the crest of the Armit range of mountains. Some half of the land area of Gulf Province is mountainous and timbered, with a highest peak of 2775 m.
The large rivers which cross the plains of Gulf Province on their way to the sea include the Purari and the Kikori, which are PNG’s third and fourth largest. So far, the swampy, coastal plain has not been crossed by roads and economic development has been slow. Many of the coastal residents of Gulf Province derive a living from fishing, growing copra and making artefacts. Gulf is famous for its masks, dancing boards, drums and figures representing important spirits.
The cultural life of Gulf Province was previously renowned for its uniqueness, with some of the people, although missionised, maintaining much of their traditional way of life well into this century. This consisted of separate lives for men and women, with the men, in particular, engaging constantly in ritual practices and ceremonials in specially constructed longhouses. But those that remained were destroyed by the people themselves in the years just before the second World War, and the old ways have not been resumed.
Nowadays the reality is more banal and the citizens of Gulf Province are anxious about getting work and government services. The oil pipe-line from the Kutubu oil field in Southern Highland Province passes through Gulf and oil has been discovered in Gulf Province itself. There is a feeling among the leaders of Gulf that the long years of underdevelopment are about to end.