Papua is a group of over 1,400 islands, large and small, scattered between the equator and North Australia. Many of these islands are tiny uninhibited coral atolls, but the majority are volcanic formations. Geologically Papua is a transition zone between the islands of Indonesia and the small ones of Oceania.
In the caves of Papua remains have been found of the first human inhabitants of these islands. As a result of the last glaciation the water level went down and some Polynesian people were able to cross to these small islands, but then when the ice melted and the sea level rose again these communities were cut off.
Dating of the oldest human remains show that these islands were inhabited over 40,000 years ago. The different ethnic groups that live on the islands of Papua were greatly feared by the sailors who dared to navigate the waters of these "accursed" islands. Head hunters and cannibals, these fierce warriors of the sea remained isolated until well into the 20th century.
For a long time their territory remained unexplored by Europeans. Still today there are isolated areas where there are cases of cannibalism and ritual decapitations. Traditional customs and rituals remain strong among the inhabitants of these islands, though now it's unusual to find a village without a mission of one of the over 100 different churches which compete for converts among the Papuan natives.
But though they attend worship and prayers to these imported Gods, the Papuans continue to follow their traditional laws and age-old customs. For example, the teenagers of some of the tribes have to undergo a severe initiation before being able to sail alone. It is a test to their courage and capacity for suffering.
If they bear the pain without flinching a string of shells is placed around their necks symbolizing the passage to adulthood. They're now ready to face the dangers of the sea protected by the spirits of the forest. That's why during the initiation they cover their bodies with green sand.