“We are contributing K88 million towards the National purse.” West New Britain is PNG’s centre for, oil palm, timber and volcanoes. There are 13 volcanoes in the Province of which 3 are active, one dormant and the rest extinct. It is these rich volcanic soils which are the source of WNB’s wealth of timber and palm oil.
The Western half of New Britain island was sparsely developed during the colonial period except for scattered coconut plantations. Compared to the eastern end of the island, it seems relatively untouched even today. It is a delightfully friendly place with a great tradition of dancing and music. It became a separate administrative district in 1966 after 80 years of German and Australian rule from Rabaul. Between 1950 and 1960 the government bought big areas of fertile but unused land for resettlement schemes and agricultural development. Two major nucleus-estate, smallholder oilpalm projects were developed.
According to the 1990 census WNB has a population of 130,625 people, 314 rural villages, 433 rural communities, 20 resettlement schemes and 39 plantations and estates. Many people came to WNB as plantation labourers or settlers. One fourth of the population was born off the island. This is the highest rate for any province. Unfortunately it has caused trouble with the villagers and plans have been announced to repatriate illegal settlers. WNB also has a high birth rate, which creates land shortage and tribal conflict in some areas.
Many hundreds of years ago the people of WNB were engaged in trade and exchange networks involving shells, pots, canoes and carvings between New Britain and Morobe and Madang on the mainland. Today the Nakanai language, spoken on the north east coast and mountains, is the first language of one fifth of the local people. Tok Pisin is the main second language. Shell money was used for bride price in many areas but is fast being replaced by kina and toea. Many groups have developed their own cultural artefacts. The Nakanai have a variety of bark cloth masks including hoods representing pigs or fish.
Among the Kilenge people of Cape Gloucester carved wooden bowls and pots from the Vitiaz strait trade are also traditional bride price items. The Kilenge make giant pointed masks called bukomo with bright, simple facial features. They also carve and paint canoe prows with simple designs representing bush animals or plants related to family groups.
Witu islanders make large conical masks of bark cloth, with large pointed triangles around the eyes. The Arowe people traditionally carve life sized human figures. Kandrian people make unique shields of three parallel pieces of wood lashed together. The Kaulong and Senseng people are the only Melanesians to blow guns to kill animals. They shoot birds and fruit bats in the rain forest. Darts are blown through 4 metre long tubes of bamboo, a sudden breath of air can shoot as far as 50 metres.
In exchange for allowing loggers into its vast timber resource, West New Britain now has plenty of roads and bridges and a Kimbe-Bialla Highway. The provincial government has been encouraging small-holder development of poultry and pig breeding units and some cash crops: coffee, spices, coconut and cocoa. There is also the hope that tourists will be attracted by the people and by the extraordinarily active volcanic landscapes, with geysers and hot-springs. On the other hand they might come for the diving, which is deemed stunningly beautiful by divers, who rave about clear water, volcanic caves draped in stag horn coral and reef dropoffs. There is a lot on offer in the quiet half of New Britain island.