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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



(from Malay papuwa, “the curly-haired”), the name for the greater part of the indigenous population of the island of New Guinea, the islands of northwestern Melanesia, the northern part of Halmahera Island, and the eastern part of Timor Island. The Papuans number more than 3 million (1972 estimate).

Anthropologically, the Papuans belong to the Melanesian race. They speak Papuan languages. The main elements of their religious beliefs are ancestor worship, magic, and totemism. Christianity was introduced in the late 19th century by missionaries, and today the majority of Papuans are formally Christians. The primitive clan system prevailed until recently, and it still prevails in some regions of New Guinea and the islands of northwestern Melanesia.

The economy of the Papuans is based on slash-and-burn farming of tuberous plants, cultivation of palms and fruit trees, hog raising, fishing, and some hunting. Some of the Papuans work on plantations and in enterprises of the mining industry. The Papuan’s life is almost entirely centered around his clan, each clan consisting of several kin groups. There was no private ownership of land before the European colonization, and property and social differentiation had only begun to take shape. The Russian explorer N. N. Miklukho-Maklai made a great contribution to the ethnographic study of the Papuans.


Miklukho-Maklai, N. N. Sobr. soch., vols. 1–5. Moscow-Leningrad, 1950–54.
Puchkov, P. I. Formirovanie naseleniia Melanezii. Moscow, 1968.
Butinov, N. A. Papuasy Novoi Gvinei. Moscow, 1968.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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