Religion in Papua New Guinea

Religion in Papua New Guinea is predominantly Christian, with traditional animism and ancestor worship often occurring less openly as another layer underneath or more openly side by side Christianity. The courts, government, and general society uphold a constitutional right to freedom of speech, thought, and belief. There is no state religion, although the government openly partners with several Christian groups to provide services, and churches participate in local government bodies.

Citizen population in Papua New Guinea by religion, based on the 2011 census[1]

  Catholicism (26%)
  Pentecostal (10.4%)
  United Church in Papua New Guinea (10.3%)
  Evangelical Alliance Papua New Guinea (5.9%)
  Baptist (2.8%)
  Salvation Army (0.4%)
  Kwato Church (0.2%)
  Other Christian (5.1%)
  Non Christian (1.4%)
  Not stated (3.1%)

A large majority of Papua New Guineans identify themselves as members of a Christian church (96% in the 2000 census); however, many combine their Christian faith with traditional indigenous practices.[2] Other religions represented in the country include the Baháʼí Faith, Hinduism and Islam.[3]


St Andrews Lutheran Church (Evangelical Lutheran Church of PNG Headquarters), Malahang, Morobe Province.
Christmas pageant in Port Moresby Anglican church mid-1990s.

The 2000 census percentages were as follows:

Iglesia ni Cristo, a Philippine base Christian church had already set its foot in the country.

In 2010, emerging Christian denominations include the Jehovah's Witnesses and the Members Church of God International.

The Papua New Guinea Council of Churches members are:

  • Anglican Church of Papua New Guinea
  • Gutnius Lutheran Church (associated with the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod)
  • Union Baptist
  • Roman Catholic Church
  • Evangelical Lutheran Church of Papua New Guinea
  • United Church in Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands
  • Salvation Army

There are also a number of parachurch organizations:

Several Christian professional educational institutions have been opened in the country, such as Christian Leaders' Training College, Divine Word University, Pacific Adventist University and Sonoma Adventist College.

Traditional religions

Duk-Duk dancers in the Gazelle Peninsula, New Britain, 1913.
Ancestor figure with skull, Sepik, Iatmul people.

Traditional ethnic religions are often animist and many have elements of ancestor worship, as well as tamam witches.[6]

Religious syncretism is high, with many citizens combining their Christian faith with some traditional indigenous religious practices.[2]

New religious movements

Cargo cults

Some cargo cults—the beliefs in a lost "Golden Age", which would be re-established when the dead ancestors returned—sprang up in Papua New Guinea during the 20th century, including the Taro Cult and the events known as the Vailala Madness in the Gulf of Papua, which, by the late 1920s, was no longer active.[7][8]


The Makasol (or "Wind Nation"), also known as Paliau movement, is neo-traditional Millenarianist counter-cultural religious and social movement in Papua New Guinea. Its base is in the Manus Province, a motherland of its founder, the prophet Paliau Maloat (d. 1991). He had served in the colonial police force, but became an opposition political activist, organized a movement, and had been arrested twice by the colonial authority. Later he also opposed the independent Papua governing elite.[9][10]

The faith of the movement focuses on a new Holy Trinity—Wing, Wang and Wong. The new counter-cultural project is based on native values: local production for use; indigenous medical practices; new versions of traditional social institutions ("men's houses" and replacing the structure of local level governments).[10]

Similar movements

There are similar indigenist movements to the Makasol. An example is the movement led by the remarkable "prophet" Yali in the Rai Coast District of northern Papua.[10]

Baháʼí Faith

The Baháʼí Faith in Papua New Guinea began after 1916 with a mention by `Abdu'l-Bahá, then head of the religion, that Baháʼís should take the religion there.[11] The first Baháʼís moved (referred to as "Baháʼí pioneering") to Papua New Guinea in 1954.[12] With local converts the first Baháʼí Local Spiritual Assembly was elected in 1958.[13] The first National Spiritual Assembly was then elected in 1969.[14] According to the census of 2000, the number of Baháʼís does not exceed 21,000.[15] But the Association of Religion Data Archives (relying on World Christian Encyclopedia) estimated three times more Baháʼís at 60,000 or 0.9% of the nation in 2005[16] Either way it is the largest minority religion in Papua New Guinea, albeit a small one. Among its more well known members are the late Margaret Elias and the late Sirus Naraqi.

Margaret Elias was the daughter of the first Papua New Guinean woman on the national assembly,[17] and the country's first woman lawyer (in the 1970s).[18] She attended the 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women and was given an award in 1995 and 2002 for her many years in the public service, particularly in the national government. She went on to support various initiatives for education.[19]

Sirus Naraqi lived and worked in Papua New Guinea from 1977 to 1979 and from 1983 to 1998, doing clinical medical work as well as teaching at the University of Papua New Guinea, where he was given an award in 1999 and had served as a member of the Continental Board of Counsellors in Australasia since 1985.[20]


Islam in Papua New Guinea counts for more than 5,000 followers,[21][22] (most of whom are Sunni) mainly as a result of a recent spike in conversions. Despite being a dominant religion in neighbouring Indonesia, adherents of Islam make up a small segment of the population.


According to ARDA, PNG had (1,620) 0.02% Hindus in 2015,[23] up from 911 (0.01%) in 2010.[24]

Religious freedom

The constitution of Papua New Guinea establishes freedom of religion and religious practice, provided that it does not infringe on the rights of others or of the public interest. There is no state religion, although the preamble to the constitution mentions "the Christian principles" the country is founded upon. Parliament sessions and most official government functions open and close with Christian prayer. Since 2016, the government has pursued programs to increase the partnership between churches and the state, including subsidies to churches and the establishment of church councils to assist in local governance.[25]

Religious groups are required to register the government in order to hold property and obtain tax-exempt status. Foreign missionaries are allowed into the country on special work visas with lower fees than other visa categories.[25]

Churches operate roughly half of the educational and medical institutions in the country, and receive government subsidies to provide these services. Public schools provide one hour of non-compulsory religious education per week; in practice, few students opt out of these lessons. Government officials have discussed plans to make religious education compulsory, but as of the end of 2017, these were not implemented.[25]

Religious leaders have stated that religious groups are generally able to practice their religion without interference. However, there have been multiple incidences of Muslim refugees and asylum seekers being the targets of stabbings. Other Muslim residents of Papua New Guinea have not faced such attacks.[25]

In the past, the Papuan government were opposed towards formally recognizing Islam and its institutions. However, the government has reportedly threatened to ban Islam to the present day. There are reports of native Muslims experiencing discrimination and even violence from the Christian majority.[26]


  2. "US Department of State International Religious Freedom Report 2003". Retrieved 2006-03-23.
  3. "Papua New Guinea. International Religious Freedom Report 2006 BUREAU OF DEMOCRACY, HUMAN RIGHTS, AND LABOR". U.S. Department of State.
  4. "United Church in Papua New Guinea — World Council of Churches". Retrieved 2020-03-19.
  5. "History Catholic Church in PNG". Archived from the original on 2005-09-23. Retrieved 2006-03-23.
  6. Marty Zelenietz, Shirley Lindenbaum -Sorcery and Social Change in Melanesia 1981- Page 66 The body shadow or reflection of the tamam cannot fuse with & finiik in the ancestral underworld, for a "witch's" finiik spirit entirely disintegrates at death. There are no tamam in the idyllic abode of the ancestors.
  7. Schwimmer, E., ed. (1976). F. E. Williams: The Vailala Madness and Other Essays. London: C. Hurst and Company.
  8. Worsley, Peter (1968). The Trumpet Shall Sound. A Study of 'Cargo' Cults in Melanesia (2nd ed.). New York: Schocken Books.
  9. Wanek, Alexander (1996). Fighting Lucifer. The State and its Enemies in Papua New Guinea. NIAS Monographs in Asian Studies. London; New York: RoutledgeCurzon. ISBN 9780700703043.
  10. Worsley, Peter (2006). "Paliau movement—Melanesia". In Peter B. Clarke (ed.). Encyclopedia of new religious movements. London; New York: Routledge. pp. 482–485. ISBN 9-78-0-415-26707-6.
  11. `Abdu'l-Bahá (1991) [1916-17]. Tablets of the Divine Plan (Paperback ed.). Wilmette, Illinois, USA: Baháʼí Publishing Trust. pp. 40–42. ISBN 0-87743-233-3.
  12. "A life in pursuit of noble endeavors". Baháʼí World News Service. Baháʼí International Community. 29 June 2004. Retrieved December 11, 2012.
  13. "Celebrations held throughout the land". Baháʼí World News Service. Baháʼí International Community. 8 May 2004. Retrieved December 11, 2012.
  14. Hassall, Graham; Universal House of Justice. "National Spiritual Assemblies statistics 1923-1999". Assorted Resource Tools. Baháʼí Library Online. Retrieved 2008-04-02.
  15. "East & Southeast Asia - Papua New Guinea". CIA World Factbook. November 13, 2012. Retrieved December 11, 2012.
  16. "Most Baha'i Nations (2005)". QuickLists > Compare Nations > Religions >. The Association of Religion Data Archives. 2005. Retrieved December 11, 2012.
  17. "Baháʼís in PNG". NSA of Baháʼís of PNG. 2012. Archived from the original on May 7, 2013. Retrieved December 11, 2012.
  18. "From around the world, Baháʼí women converge on Beijing". One Country. Baháʼí International Community. 7 (2). September 1995. Retrieved December 11, 2012.
  19. "Elder, Papua New Guinea, Global University for Lifelong Learning". Global University for Lifelong Learning. 2012. Archived from the original on June 22, 2013. Retrieved December 11, 2012.
  20. "A special place in the rose garden". Baháʼí World News Service. Baháʼí International Community. 18 August 2004. Retrieved December 11, 2012.
  21. "Growing numbers convert to Islam in PNG - ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)". 17 November 2008.
  22. Flower, Scott (5 November 2012). "The growing muslim minority community in Papua New Guinea". Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs. 32 (3): 359–371. doi:10.1080/13602004.2012.727295. S2CID 145723290. Retrieved 28 August 2015.
  23. "Papua New Guinea, Religion And Social Profile". Retrieved 2021-10-18.
  24. "Most Hindu Nations (2010)". QuickLists > Compare Nations > Religions >. The Association of Religion Data Archives. 2010. Retrieved February 20, 2022.
  25. International Religious Freedom Report 2017 § Papua New GuineaUS Department of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor.
  26. Flower, Scott (2015-05-01). "Conversion to Islam in Papua New Guinea". Nova Religio. 18 (4): 55–82. doi:10.1525/nr.2015.18.4.55. ISSN 1092-6690.

Further reading

  • Aerts, Theo (ed.): The Martyrs of Papua New Guinea. 333 Missionary Lives Lost During World War II, University of Papua New Guinea Press, Port Moresby 1994, ISBN 9980-84-061-7 - ISBN 978-9980-84-061-5 - ISBN 9980-84-053-6 - ISBN 978-9980-84-053-0
  • Aerts, Theo: Traditional Religion in Melanesia, University Press of Papua New Guinea, Port Moresby 1998. 189 pp. , ISBN 9980-84-068-4, ISBN 978-9980-84-068-4
  • Aerts, Theo: Christianity in Melanesia, University Press of Papua New Guinea, Port Moresby 1998. 256 pp., ISBN 9980-84-069-2, ISBN 978-9980-84-069-1
  • Ahrens, Theodor: Christian Syncretism: A Study from the Southern Madang District of P.N.G. Catalyst. 1974; 4(1): 3-40.
  • Ahrens, Theodor: Concepts of Power in a Melanesian and Biblical Perspective. Missiology. 1977; 5: 141–173.
  • Ahrens, Theodor: Melanesische "Cargo"-Kulte'. In: Münzel, Mark, Editor: Neuguinea: Nutzung und Deutung der Umwelt. Frankfurt am Main: Museum für Völkerkunde; 1987: 143-160, 399-400.
  • Ahrens, Theodor: Der neue Mensch im kolonialen Zweilicht. Studien zum religiösen Wandel in Ozeanien. (Hamburger Theologische Studien 5). Lit Verlag: Muenster (Germany) 1993, ISBN 3-89473-994-0.
  • Ahrens, Theodor: Unterwegs zur verlorenen Heimat. Studien zur Identitätsproblematik in Melanesien, Verlag der Ev.-Luth. Mission: Erlangen 1986. ISBN 978-3-87214-304-4
  • Alt, Josef: The Contribution of Arnold Janssen to the SVD Mission in New Guinea. In: Divine Word Missionaries in Papua New Guinea, 1896–1996. Festschrift. Steyler Verlag, Nettetal 1996, ISBN 3-8050-0380-3, S. 11–40. - also in: Verbum SVD. 37:1-2 (1996), S. 11–40.
  • Alt, Josef(ed.): Arnold Janssen SVD, Letters to New Guinea and Australia. (Studia Instituti Missiologici SVD 77) Steyler Verlag, Nettetal 2001, ISBN 3-8050-0467-2.
  • Barker, John (ed.): Christianity in Oceania, Ethnographic Perspectives, Lanham University Press of America 1990. ISBN 978-0-8191-7906-7
  • Barker, John: Secondary Conversion and the Anthropology of Christianity in Melanesia, in: Archives de sciences sociales des Religions 157 (janvier-mars 2012), p. 67-87. ISBN 978-2-7132-2328-0
  • Bartle, Neville: Death, Witchcraft and the Spirit World in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea. Point No. 29, Melanesian Institute: Goroka, PNG 2005. ISBN 9980-65-003-6.
  • Böhm, Karl: The life of some island people of New Guinea: a missionary's observations of the Volcanic Islands of Manam, Boesa, Biem, and Ubrub, Introduction by Nancy Lutkehaus, (Collectanea Instituti Anthropos Vol. 29), Dietrich Reimer Verlag: Berlin 1983, ISBN 3-496-00725-7
  • Breward, Ian: A History of the Churches in Australasia, (The Oxford History of Christian Churches), Oxford University Press, Oxford 2001, Reprinted 2008, 474 pp., ISBN 978-0-19-927592-2.
  • Coleman, Simon: Christianities in Oceania: Historical Genealogies and Anthropological Insularities, in: Archives de sciences sociales des Religions 157 (janvier-mars 2012), p. 12-38. ISBN 978-2-7132-2328-0
  • Ernst, Manfred: Changing Christianity in Oceania: A Regional Overview, in: Archives de sciences sociales des Religions 157 (janvier-mars 2012), p. 29-45. ISBN 978-2-7132-2328-0
  • Ernst, Manfred: Globalization and the Re-Shaping of Christianity in the Pacific Islands, Pacific Theological College, Suva (Fiji) 2006.
  • Ernst, Manfred: Winds of Change: Rapidly Growing Religious Groups in the Pacific Islands, Pacific Conference of Churches: Suva 1994. ISBN 978-982-200-067-2
  • Lawrence, Peter: Road Belong Cargo. A Study of the Cargo Movement in the Southern Madang District, New Guinea, Melbourne University Press: Melbourne 1964. ISBN 978-0-88133-458-6
  • Flannery,Wendy: All Prophets: Revival Movements in the Catholic and Lutheran Churches in the Highlands. In: Catalyst 10 (1980) 229-257.
  • Flannery, Wendy (ed.): Religious Movements in Melanesia, vol I, II III, (Point 2,3,4), Melanesian Institute Goroka, 1983-1984.
  • Flannery, Wendy: Symbol and Myth in Melanesian Cultures. In: Missiology 7 (1979) 435-449.
  • Garrett, John: Footsteps in the Sea: Christianity in Oceania to World War II, Institute of Pacific Studies: Suva 1992.
  • Garrett, John: Where Nets Were Cast: Christianity in Oceania Since World War II, Institute of Pacific Studies , University of the South Pacific in association with the World Council of Churches, Suva and Geneva 1997.
  • Gewertz, D. and F. Errington: On PepsiCo and piety in Papua New Guinea modernity, in American Ethnologist 23, p. 476-493.
  • Gibbs, Phil: Papua New Guinea, in M. Ernst (ed.), Globalization and the Re-Shaping of Christianity in the Pacific Islands, Suva 2006, p. 81-158.
  • Gibbs, Phil: Religion and Politics in Papua New Guinea (1997-2000), (Point 24), Melanesian Institute: Goroka 2001.
  • Koch-Schmid, Christin (ed.): Expecting the Day of the Wrath: Versions of the Millennium in Papua New Guinea, National Research Institute: Port Moresby 1999.
  • Langmore, Diane: Missionary Lives: Papua, 1874-1914, (Pacific Islands Monograph Series, No. 6), University of Hawaii Press: Honolulu 1989. ISBN 0-8248-1163-1
  • Laracy, Hugh: Marists and Melanesians. A History of Catholic Missions in the Salomon Islands, Australian National University Press: Canberra 1976, ISBN 0-7081-0404-5
  • Lawrence, Peter and Mervyn J. Meggitt (eds.): God, Ghosts and Men in Melanesia, Oxford University Press: Melbourne 1965. ISBN 978-0-19-550147-6
  • Loeliger,Carl and Garry Trompf (eds.): New Religious Movements in Melanesia, University of Papua New Guinea Press: Port Moresby 1985.
  • MacDonald, Mary N.: Religions of Melanesia: A Bibliographic Survey - By Garry W. Trompf, in: Religious Studies Review 33:2 (2007) 167f.,
  • Mantovani, Ennio (ed.): An Introduction to Melanesian Religions, (Point, 6), The Melanesian Institute: Goroka 1984.
  • Mantovani, Ennio: Mission: Collision or Dialogical Encounter? A Chronicle of St. Paul's Parish, Yobai, Papua New Guinea, (Studia Instituti Missiologici Societas Verbi Divini Nr. 95), Steyler Verlag: Nettetal (Germany) 2011, ISBN 978-3-8050-0581-4
  • Mückler, Hermann: Mission in Ozeanien. Wien 2010: Facultas. 328 pp, ISBN 978-3-7089-0397-2
  • Narakobi, Bernard C.: The Melanesian Way, Institute of Papua New Guinea Studies: Port Moresby 1983.
  • Pech, Rufus: The Acts of the Apostles in Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands, in: An Introduction to Ministry in Melanesia, Edited by Brian Schwarz, (point Series No. 7), Melanesian Institute: Goroka 1985, 17-71. ISSN 0253-2913
  • Renck, Guenther: Contextualization of Christianity and Christianization of Language. A Case Study from the Highlands of New Guinea, Verlag der Ev-Luth. Mission: Erlangen 1989. ISBN 978-3-87214-305-1
  • Robbins, Joel: Becoming sinners. Christianity and moral torment in a Papua New Guinea society, University of California, Berkeley , Los Angeles 2004.
  • Sack, Peter, ed.: German New Guinea: A Bibliography, Canberra ACT: Australian National University Press, 1980, ISBN 978-0-909596-47-7
  • Steffen, Paul B.: Centres of Formation and Evangelizing Ministry. Pastoral Institutes in Oceania and Africa. Studia Missiologici Societatis Verbi Divini 102, Franz Schmitt Verlag: Siegburg, Germany 2014, xx + 245 pp., ISBN 978-3-87710-541-2
  • Steffen, Paul B.: From Church to Mission. Assessment and Perspectives of the Catholic Church in Mainland New Guinea after Its First Hundred Years. In: Steyler Missionswissenschaftliche Institut (ed.), Divine Word Missionaries in Papua New Guinea, 1896–1996, Festschrift. Steyler Verl., Nettetal 1996, 231-258, ISBN 3-8050-0380-3. - ibidem in: Verbum SVD 37:1-2 (1996) 231-258
  • Steffen, Paul B.: LIMBROCK, Eberhard SVD (1859-1931), Missionspionier u. Missionsgründer. In: Biographisch-Bibliographisches Kirchenlexikon. (BBKL) 33 (2012), ISBN 978-3-88309-690-2, pp. 774–784.
  • Steffen, Paul: Missionsbeginn in Neuguinea. Die Anfänge der Rheinischen, Neuendettelsauer u. Steyler Missionsarbeit in Neuguinea. (Studia Instituti Missiologici S.V.D. - 61) Steyler Verlag, Nettetal 1995, ISBN 3-8050-0351-X.
  • Strelan, John G.: Search for Salvation. Studies in the History and Theology of Cargo Movements, Lutheran Publishing House: Adelaide 1977. ISBN 978-0-85910-037-3
  • Sullivan, Nancy: God's Brideprice: Laisez faire Religion, and the Fear of Being Left Behind in Papua New Guinea, in: Contemporary PNG Studies: DWU Research Journal, 6 (2007), p. 63-91.
  • Threlfall, Neville: One Hundred Years in the Islands. The Methodist/United Church in the New Guinea Islands Region 1875-1975, The United Church (New Guinea Islands Region), Toksave na Buk dipatmen: Rabaul 1975, ISBN 0-86938-016-8
  • Trompf, Garry W. (ed.): The Gospel is Not Western: Black Theologies from the Southwest Pacific, Orbis Books: New York 1987, ISBN 978-0-88344-269-2
  • Trompf, Garry W.: Melanesian Religion, Cambridge University Press: Cambridge 1991, ISBN 978-0-521-38306-6
  • Wagner, Herwig - Hermann Reiner (eds.): The Lutheran Church in Papua New Guinea. The First Hundred Years 1886-1986, second printing, Lutheran Publishing House: Adelaide (Australia) 1987, 677 pp., ISBN 0-85910-382-X
  • Wagner, Herwig - Gernot Fugmann - Hermann Janssen (eds.): Papua Neuguinea. Geschichte und Kirche. Ein ökumenisches Handbuch, Verl. der Ev.Luth. Mission: Erlangen, 1989, 464 pp. + 16 Bildseiten, ISBN 3-87214-193-7
  • Waiko, John Dademo: A Short History of Papua New Guinea, Oxford University Press: Melbourne (Australia) 1993, 275 pp., ISBN 0-19-553164-7
  • Wesemann, Heiner: Papua Neuguinea. Nuigini. Steinzeit-Kulturen auf dem Weg ins 20. Jahrhundert. Dumont Buchverlag: Köln 1985.
  • Wetherell, David: Reluctant Mission: The Anglican Church in Papua New Guinea, University of Queensland Press, St. Lucia 1977. ISBN 978-0-7022-1411-0
  • Whitehouse, Harvey: From Mission to Movement: The Impact of Christianity on Patterns of Political Association in Papua New Guinea, in: Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 4-1 (1998), p. 43-63.
  • Worsley, Peter: The Trumpet Shall Sound: A Study of "Cargo" Cults in Melanesia, Schocken Books: New York 1968. ISBN 978-0-586-08029-0
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