Papua, Or Flfew Guinea, the largest island in the world, with the exception of Australia and possibly Borneo. It is included in the Australasian division of Oceania, and lies between lat. 0° 6' and 10° 45' S., and Ion. 130° 45' and 151° E., directly E. of the Indian archipelago and N. of Australia, from which it is separated by Torres strait, bounded S. W. by those portions of the Indian ocean known as the Banda and Arafura seas, and elsewhere by the Pacific. Its length N. W. and S. E. is about 1,500 m., maximum breadth 400 m.; estimated area, from 260,000 to upward of 300,-000 sq. m. Papua is less known to civilized man than any other region of equal extent on the earth. Until recently even the principal features of the coast had not been accurately determined, and no European had ever been able to advance more than a few miles into the interior. The island is of irregular outline and deeply indented by several large bays, which form extensive peninsulas of its eastern and western extremities, while the more compact portion is situated between the 135th and 145th meridians. Thus on the N. coast, near Ion. 135°, Geelvink bay, over 150 m. wide at its mouth, penetrates 120 m. southward, approaching within some 30 m. of the waters of Etna bay on the S. side of the island.
The peninsula so formed trends W. N. W. from the narrow isthmus between these bays, and is indented in turn by McOlure inlet from the Banda sea, which extends inland to within 18 m. of Geelvink bay on the opposite coast. A second peninsula stretches thence westward to Galewo strait, 2 to 3 m. wide, between Papua and the neighboring island of Salawaty, and northward to a point called the cape of Good Hope, in lat. 0° 6' S., Ion. 132° 30'E. The great peninsula forming the eastern end of the island may be considered as beginning at a line drawn from Astrolabe bay on the N. coast, near Ion. 146°, directly S. to the head of the gulf of Papua, on the S. coast, a body of water about equal in extent to Geelvink bay. It terminates near the Louisiade archipelago, not in a single point, as represented on all but the latest maps, but in a broad fork consisting of two promontories, of which the northern is much the narrower, separated by Milne bay, an arm of the sea 20 m. long and about 8 m. wide. This appears by the survey made in 1873 by Oapt. Moresby of the British navy. The N. E. coast of this large peninsula borders on Dampier strait, between Papua and the island of New Britain, and is indented by Huon gulf.
The most important inlet on the N. side of 4he main body of the island is Humboldt bay, near the 141st parallel of E. longitude, W. of which the Dutch claim dominion over the whole country. Jobie and several other islands of considerable size are situated near the mouth of Geelvink bay; and Prince Frederick Henry's island, close to the S. coast, from which it is separated by Dourga strait, is about as large as the Moluccan island of Booro. The Key and Arroo groups lie S. of the western portion of Papua. The sea surrounding the island is deep on the Pacific side, but shallow toward Australia, in which direction it does not exceed 100 fathoms in depth. - Papua is a mountainous island, subject to a hot, damp climate, and clothed with a luxuriantly rich forest vegetation throughout its known extent. But few large rivers have been discovered. Mountains are visible in the interior from all parts of the coast. The principal chains are the Ar-f ak range, in the N. W. peninsula, with a maximum altitude variously calculated at from 7,000 to 9,500 ft.; the Snowy mountains, E. of Geelvink bay toward the middle of the island, of similar altitude, and so called because snow is said to have been seen upon their summits; and the Stanley range, from 9,000 to 13,000 ft. high, in the S. E. peninsula.
Volcanic action is not known to occur in Papua, although Dampier reported volcanoes on the N. E. coast opposite New Britain in 1699. Earthquakes are infrequent, and seldom severe. The coast of the N. W. peninsula is of coral formation, as also are the adjacent islands, but nothing is known of the geology of the interior. The great height of the Papuan mountains and their distance from the coast have led to the inference that there must be large streams in the country; among the most considerable as yet known is the Amberno, described by the German traveller Meyer as sending volumes of fresh water into the sea at the N. E. end of Geelvink bay. - The climate of Papua is warm and moist. During the wet season the rains on the coast are exceedingly heavy, and malarial fevers are prevalent. The flora resembles that of Borneo in the varied and luxuriant vegetation of the hot and damp tropical forests. Little is known, however, of the natural history of the island except what relates to its fauna. A dense growth of mangroves lines much of the S. coast W. of Torres strait, and the forest trees here reach a height of 200 to 250 ft.
Of the 17 Papuan mammals, all are marsupials but three, of which two are bats and one is a species of pig (sus Papuensis).
The tree kangaroo is the most characteristic of the marsupials, which order is represented further by the flying opossum and four species of cuscus. According to Wallace, the birds of Papua are more numerous, more beautiful, and afford more new, curious, and elegant forms than those of any other island on the globe. Eleven species of birds of paradise are known to inhabit the island, of which eight are not found elsewhere except in the closely contiguous island of Salawaty. There are 30 species of parrots, among them the largest and smallest parrots known to ornithologists; 40 species of pigeons, including the beautiful crowned pigeons; and 16 species of kingfishers. The cassowary is also included among the 108 genera of Papuan land birds. Meyer's recent researches on the herpetology of this region show that there are 63 different forms of reptiles and batrachians in Papua and the adjacent islands, comprising more than 30 species of lizards, 16 serpents, of which one is allied to the Australian carpet snake, and one tortoise besides the marine tortoise.
Insects are exceedingly numerous and noted for their beauty of form and color. "Wallace collected 1,000 distinct sorts of beetles in a space of one square mile during a three months' residence at Dorey. The zoological affinities of Papua and Australia, together with the shallowness of the intervening sea, have been regarded as strong evidence' of the former existence of land communication between these two vast islands. - There is no means of forming any trustworthy estimate of the population of Papua. The inhabitants belong to the typical Papuan race, and have a facial expression not unlike that of Europeans. (See Papuan Pace and Languages.) No other indigenous race has been met with on the island. The double extremity of the S. E. peninsula, visited by Capt. Moresby in 1873, although very rugged and mountainous, is intersected by fertile valleys, which are well cultivated by the natives, who there excel as agriculturists. Their villages in this region are described as singularly neat, in which respect they contrast favorably with those in the N. W. part of the island near Dorey, where the houses are built on poles 15 ft. above the ground.
Recent travellers report the prevalence of cannibalism in numerous localities, but its existence does not seem to be proved. - The government of the Netherlands is the only European power having colonial possessions in Papua. . The area under Dutch control is said to be about 29,000 sq. m., with an estimated population of 200,000. The territory which has long been claimed by the Netherlands, however, is much more extensive, comprising nearly half the island. Dorey, a small village situated on a fine harbor on the N. side of the N. W. peninsula, is one of the principal Dutch stations frequented by European and Mohammedan traders. There are missionary posts in this part of Papua. Birds of paradise, tripang, wild nutmegs, and tortoise shell are among the chief articles of export in the active trade carried on with the Moluccas. - Papua was discovered in the early part of the 16th century by the Portuguese, by whom it was named New Guinea from the striking resemblance between its inhabitants and those of Guinea in Africa. The Dutch in 1828 built a fort called Dubus on the S. E. coast, but the climate proved so unhealthy that they were forced to abandon it. They subsequently succeeded, however, in establishing trading stations at various localities.
The S. E. coast was explored in 1845 by the Fly, a British government vessel, and in 1846 by the schooner Bramble. Another expedition in the British ship Rattlesnake in 1848 discovered the Stanley range, one peak of which was ascertained to be 13,205 ft. above the sea. A successful effort to complete this survey was made in 1873 and 1874 by Capt. Moresby of the British navy, in the ship Basilisk, who carefully examined the S. coast from Torres strait to the E. end of the island, and the N. coast thence westerly to Astrolabe bay. A Dutch scientific commission visited the W. part of Papua in 1858. The natural history of that region was investigated by A. R. Wallace in the same year; by D'Albertis and Beccari in 1872; and by Meyer, the German naturalist, in 1873. - The most recent work on Papua is " Wanderings in the Interior of New Guinea," by J. H. Lawson (London, 1875), whose statements, however, have been called in question.