Madang is a province of contrasts. It has many of Papua New Guineas highest mountains, greatest rivers, most beautiful sandy beaches, most island volcanoes and biggest mix of languages (175). In the middle of the main coastal strip lies Madang town, probably one of the most beautiful towns in the whole country if not the whole South Pacific region.
Madang province is divided in two by the 210 kilometre long Ramu valley which separates the coastal Adelbert and Finisterre mountain ranges from the central Schrader and Bismark ranges. It lies on a fault zone and has many earthquakes. The total land mass is 28,339 square kilometres which includes four major islands. But with the inclusion of the sea area (which is important when considering fishing rights) it occupies 94,000 square kilometres.
The Province is divided into six districts, the smallest of which is the island district of Karkar, the largest the Middle Ramu. Karkar has an active volcanic crater which erupted in 1974 and again in 1979 killing two volcanologists who were monitoring volcanic activity on site. It is also the most densely populated district with 73 persons per square kilometre. In contrast the Middle Ramu has a population density of 6 persons per square kilometre.
The people of Madang fall into four distinct groups, islanders, coastal people, river people and mountain people. Scientists found evidence of human settlement some 15,000 years ago near Simbai. For hundreds of years the Yabob and Bibil people traded between the coastal areas and the highlands. Great sailing canoes brought pots from Karkar island to Western Morobe. Shells, salt and wooden bowls were traded for stone axes, feathers and women from the Asaro, Simbu and Jimi valleys in the Highlands. Today the fertile coastal strip produces coconuts and copra. The Ramu valley is productive cattle country and produces almost all of PNG’s sugar requirement. The islanders depend on seafood, root crops, bananas and tropical fruits. Taro is a staple food but sweet potatoes are more important in the mountains.
The total population of Madang is 252,411. There are two large hospitals, thirty one Health centres and 173 Aidposts. 38.5 % of those aged 7-16 attend school. 45.9 % can read at least one language of which 29.5 % is English, 40.3% Tok Pisin and 40.9% local. 40% of those 10 years and older work for money contributing to the cash economy by selling crops (vegetables, betelnut, bananas, cocoa, coconuts, fruit, coffee), fish, pigs or services.
Madang has a well-developed infrastructure to cope with future development.
The Provincial capital, Madang, is centrally located in a naturally deep sheltered harbour which is linked to roads and air-services. It is an international seaport through which copra, cocoa, cardamon, chilli, woodchip and sawn timber is exported. Small, locally owned coastal vessels provide regular shipping services along the coast and to the islands. Access to the interior by the Ramu river is provided by barges or motorised dinghies and dug-out canoes. Madang is justly proud of its beautiful harbour and its facilities.
The Province has 31 airstrips varying in size from the international runway at Madang to grass strips in rural areas. Currently the Madang runway takes regular F28 Air Niugini services direct from Port Moresby, Cairns and Jayapura. There is a plan to extend the runway to take much bigger planes. The 1995 Provincial Premier, Matthew Gubag, has a gleam in his eye when he envisages 747’s landing from Hong Kong, bringing tourists and businessmen to the province.
Madang has 1762 km of roads of which 74 km are sealed. Roads run along the coast and connect with the Highlands Highway in Morobe. There is a plan to extend north into Sepik. The provinces which make up Momase region, (Morobe, Madang and Sepik) are keen to promote tourism on a region-wide basis. The road system will be crucial to that plan.
“Tourism”, said Premier Gubag, “is the gold of Madang”. Madang town is a major attraction. It is a town of parks and waterways, luxuriant trees and grassy pathways. It is remarkably free from the urban disturbances. Even late at night, people can be seen walking freely and unafraid. There are hotels, department stores, markets and artefact shops. A Museum and Cultural Centre looks to links with the sea – displaying models of traditional sea-going boats including the lalaoika, a one-masted canoe, and the balangut, a two-mast canoe that has made this area famous. The waters of the harbour are still crystal clear. Children can swim in safety. Harbour tours are easily arranged as are visits to one of the many tiny tropical islands where people still live a traditional life as farmers and fishermen. For the more adventurous, Madang is centre of an area of coral reefs – a divers paradise.
Undeniably the Province has great potential for tourism. Whether it is for sun, sea and sand or game fishing, adventure walks in the jungle and visiting hot springs and sulphur caves. Madang has it all from sea to mountain top. It is ready and welcoming.
However, Madang Province is one of the less developed Provinces in Papua New Guinea. But Premier Gubag is ready to change that. “My government is inviting investors to put up projects. We have land available, especially government land, let people come and set up their industries here. We have wonderful fishing grounds and extensive forests. Let anyone come who is interested in processing, cutting up timber, canning fish”.
At present the Province is heavily dependent on the rural industries of agriculture, fisheries and forestry. Subsistence agriculture still plays an important part in the lives of 85% of the people of Madang Province. The main cash crops are copra, cocoa and coffee. Very recently spice crops have been established but they are insignificant compared to copra. Premier Gubag understands the copra farmers as he has farmed copra himself. There are 55 large plantations of copra in Madang, accounting for 18 thousand hectares, but almost as much acreage, 16 thousand hectares, is held by smallholders. The province produces 20 -25 thousand tonnes annually.
All the coastal regions look to the sea and the possibility of a great harvest of fish. The Momase Smallholder Coastal Fisheries Development project has been extended to Madang from Morobe Province. Currently it is funded by the German government who had historic links with the area. It is hoped to extend still further to East Sepik and Sandaun Provinces. The East Ship Fishing Company of Philippines has been fishing in Madang waters since 1990 harvesting about 300 tonnes of tuna a month. Plans are on the table for not one but two canning factories, which the government are confident would attract more interest in the resources of the sea.
Canning is to fishing what saw-mills is to logging. Madang wants to attract investors to establish saw-mills “on the spot where they are harvesting the logs”, says Matthew Gubag. “Even further, we want to see them processing, cutting up timber and making furniture right on the spot”. Madang has one of the largest forest resources in the country amounting to 700,000 hectares of which 200,000 is under logging lease and another 195,328 is on proposal for issuing Timber Permits. About another 250,000 hectares are potential logging area. There are many Wokabaut Sawmills distributed throughout the Province but none are on a scale which could maximise the potential of Madang’s natural forest.
Madang’s first contact with the Europeans was in 1871 when the Russian biologist, Nicolai Miklouho- Maclay explored the Rai coast. He introduced pineapples, mangoes, beans, pumpkins and other foods. Later the Germans came and built tobacco, cotton and coffee plantations. In 1886 Johannes Flierl started the first Lutheran mission in Madang. 40.3 % of the population are Lutheran today.
In 1942 Japanese soldiers captured Madang town. For nearly two years villagers had to suffer Allied bombing, food shortages and disease epidemics until allied soldiers recaptured the town in April 1944. Now both Japanese and Europeans are welcomed in Madang, as visitors not as invaders. Madang’s future could rest as much with its neighbours in Asia as to its links with Australasia. It is to the outside world that it is looking for investment. It is to the outside world that it holds out a warm welcome to anyone who will help bring badly needed development.