Manus Island

by Bill Martin*

Distinctive characteristics of Manus Province

It is my opinion that Manus Province is the most beautiful of all the provinces in Papua New Guinea. One-sixth of the people of Manus live in the provincial capital Lorengau. This makes Manus a relatively urbanized province. The rural dwellers reside in 192 villages on 32 islands. There are 30 vernacular languages native to Manus. Within Papua New Guinea, Manus has the highest per cent of children at school and highest per cent of the population, of both sexes, who have completed grade 6. This is quite remarkable in spite of the fact that probably a third of the people born in Manus, especially the better educated males, are absent at any give time working in other provinces of the country. Manus is left with the second highest per cent of females and by far the highest per cent of unmarried women. 43 per cent of Manus students attend church-run schools. The high value placed on education is evident from the fact that students who were not selected to attend high school can nevertheless continue their education using the Manus "School of the Air," a unique radio-correspondence educational system run by the Provincial Education Office.

Physical Characteristics

Manus Island is the largest Admiralty Islands located within Manus Province, Papua New Guinea (see Map). The Province consists of  208 islands scattered over 220,000 square km of Pacific Ocean. It is the smallest province in Papua New Guinea in terms of land area (2,100 sq. km) and population. The Province extends about 800km from New Ireland Province to Irian Jaya with its northern border along the Equator. Manus Island proper is the largest of the Admiralty Islands (about 30km wide by 100km long). The eastern end of the Island is formed of low lying uplifted coral. The central and western region is rugged hills. Mount Dremsel in the southwest part of the Island is the highest point at 718 meters above sea level.

Rambutyo Island is the second largest island in the Province. Rambutyo along with Baluan Island, Lou Island and M'Buke Island are extinct volcanoes. Tuluman, is an underwater volcano which erupted in 1953 off the southern tip of Lou Island. The string of islands along the north coast and the islands in the western part of the province are mainly low coral atolls.  Inhabited islands in the province range all the way from remote Nauna Island in the east to the remote western island groups known as the Hermit Islands, the Ninigo Group and Wuvulu and Aua Island. On the larger Islands, rainforest covers most of the terrain. On many of the smaller islands the original forests were cleared years ago to plant coconut plantations. There are also large areas of sago and mangrove swamps especially in parts of the north, south and west coasts of the main island.


The climate is Tropical Maritime with daily temperatures averaging from 26-31 degrees Celsius all year. The Northwest Monsoon season occurs from November to March. Frequent and sudden squalls during that season often make the seas too rough for fishing or travel. The Southeast Trades blow from around June through September or October and can make travel along the southern coastlines difficult. The average annual rainfall ranges from about 3,000mm to 4,100mm spread fairly evenly throughout the year.


Except for the Lorengau town area, most of the people of Manus are fishermen and subsistence farmers. Local village cash sources are derived from local sales of coconuts, vegetables, bananas, betelnut, fish, cocoa and fruits. Those who live on smaller islands near the larger Manus Island trade fish and lime (made from incinerated coral) for field produce such as sago, fruits, and vegetables. Lorengau town functions as the main administrative and commercial center in the province. Only about 10% of the population work for wages and only about 1% own a business. About a third of the population sell fish or other items such as forest products, copra, and cocoa to exporters. Although these products are exported commercially, it is likely that the main source of income for the family unit is derived from the well-educated part of the population who hold jobs outside the province and send regular remittances (money) home. Manus people hold a large number of top government posts throughout Papua New Guinea, far greater than would be expected for their relatively small population.


Ancient: Sea-going Melanesian people settled the Admiralty Islands probably between 3,000 and 10,000 years ago. Micronesians or Polynesians apparently settled some of the Western islands. The early movement of peoples through the Manus area is evident from the volcanic obsidian glass from Lou Island which was traded widely in the southwest Pacific for use in spears and other tools.

Political: Manus was annexed by Germany in 1884. German businessmen developed coconut plantations on many islands. In 1920 after World War I, the League of Nations officially handed Manus along with the German New Guinea over to Australia which administered it as part of its mandated territory. Japanese troops invaded Manus Island 1942, but Allied troops recaptured the islands after 6 weeks of fighting in early 1944. The military installation on Manus was a huge operation and saw probably over a million servicemen reside or pass through it. The base served as a re-supply depot as well as the staging area for the American invasion of the Philippines. After World War II, Manus along with the northern part of the country reverted again to Australia which administered it until. PNG was granted self-government in 1973 and full independence in 1975.

Mission: Liebenzell (evangelical) missionaries founded missions in Manus in 1914. Roman Catholic missionaries started missions between 1913 and 1920. Seventh-day Adventists began working in the province in the 1930s. Mission work was interrupted during the later years of World War II but local churches thrived under the leadership of Manus people with the help of a few American servicemen. Christianity together with the effect of the war-time machinery and activities had a great influence on the Manus people. Together they spurred a strong interest in education and health care and sparked a lot of social and spiritual change. Some of the resulting turmoil led to a socio-political movement which was associated with Paliau Moloat. This movement also had stages which expressed itself as a cargo cult movement. This movement has been known variously as the New Way, Makasol, and Win Nesien. Today church activities, education and health care comprise a large part of Manus people's lives.


The language map in this site reflects the population of individual language groups based on the 2000 census data. A summary of based on the 1990 census data is given below:

1990 Manus Province Total Population: 33,000 with the following percentage breakdown:

51% Males   49% Females
82% Rural   18% Urban  (Lorengau)
Median age:   18 years

Education and literacy

According to the 1990 census 61 per cent of those aged 7-16 attend school.  Among all persons 10 years and older, 82 per cent have attended school, 56 per cent have completed grade 6, and 11 per cent grade 10.  63 per cent can read at least one language as follows:

57% Tok Pisin 51% English
56% local language 1 % Motu

Marital status

According to the 1990 census 62 per cent of those 15 years and older have been married, 6 per cent are widowed,
and 3 per cent separated or divorced.

Church Affiliation

47% Roman Catholic 19% Evangelical.
19% Seventh Day Adventist 2% Pentecostal

* This information about Manus Province was gleaned from many public sources and from my personal experience and research

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