It is believed that Papua New Guinea was originally inhabited by
Asian settlers over 50,000 years ago. The first European contact
was by the Portuguese explorer Jorge de Meneses in 1526-27 who named
it Ilhas dos Papuas (Island of the Fuzzy Hairs).
The Spaniard Inigo Ortiz de Retes later called it New Guinea because
he thought the people similar to those of Guinea in Africa. Further
exploration followed, including landings by Bougainville, Cook,
Stanley and John Moresby.
A large, rather daunting place, New Guinea was left alone for several
centuries, with only the Dutch making any effort to assert European
authority over the island.
But in 1824, the Dutch (seeking to shore up their profitable Dutch
East Indies empire) formalised their claims to sovereignty over
the western portion of the island. Germany followed, taking possession
of the northern part of the territory in 1884.
A colonial troika was completed three days later when Britain declared
a protectorate over the southern region; outright annexation occurred
four years later.
There are four regional, cultural and political groups in Papua
New Guinea. Papuans (from the south), Highlanders, New Guineans
(from the north) and Islanders.
Some authorities divide the people into Papuans (predominantly descended
from the original arrivals) and Melanesians (more closely related
to the peoples of the south-western Pacific), though some people
(particularly those in outlying islands) are closer to being pure
Polynesian or Micronesian.
The dividing lines between these definitions are very hazy.