Papua New Guinean Culture


Given the variance in social and protocols amongst communities, it is difficult to articulate a general approach towards Papua New Guineans. Each community has their own understanding of what constitutes respectful or typical behaviour. Be conscious of the diversity of traditions and practices surrounding etiquette and, if unsure about how to interact with others in light of this difference, observe the practices of that are typical in Australia - such as being polite and respectful to one’s elders.

Basic Etiquette

  • Show respect by deferring to those older than you.
  • People will most likely be offended if someone walks past and greets them without pausing to chat.
  • It is frowned upon for couples to express affection in public.
  • Holding hands with someone of the same gender is considered to be normal.
  • Papua New Guineans typically have a relaxed approach towards timekeeping and punctuality. This is commonly referred to as ‘PNG time’.


  • Visits are generally informal, and lengthy. They are rarely planned unless for a specific occasion, such as a funeral or marriage ceremony.
  • Approach to time is relaxed, with arriving 30 minutes after the designated time being considered acceptable.
  • Spontaneously visiting friends and relatives is generally always welcomed.
  • It is more discourteous to say no to an invitation than to accept it and not appear.
  • If one is invited to a ‘house cry’, it is considered greatly disrespectful not to attend. A house cry is a period of mourning between the death of a person and their funeral. Generally lasting a few days to a week, visitors are expected to bring food and pay their respects to the newly deceased.


  • Generally, two large meals are eaten a day with intermittent snacking.
  • Second helpings are rare. Requesting more food after a main meal may be interpreted offensively as the host inadequately providing for their guests.
  • The most common utensil to use when eating is the spoon, or otherwise one’s hands.Most people will sit on the floor when eating. Tables are also commonly used in the urban areas.
  • Alcohol is not drunk often. Moreover, it is highly restricted in many areas.
  • Stepping over food is considered to be very rude.
  • Eating etiquette varies based on the status of the person, as well as the relationships between people present. For example, there are restrictions on pregnant women and people undergoing initiation rituals. These restrictions vary from group to group.
  • Moreover, etiquette based on relations with people present includes the forbidding of specific food being eaten by a son-in-law when in the presence of his mother-in-law.
  • Some eating customs are totemic whereby certain foods that are symbolic of groups are restricted, such as specific plants or animals.

Gift Giving

  • The etiquette of giving gifts varies depending on the community and their customs.
  • Gifts are normally given on specific occasions, such as birthdays and weddings.
  • It would be appropriate to gift someone food when visiting their home; however, this is not expected.

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