The natives of these islands are not very different in appearance from their Melanesian cousins in New Guinea, as would be expected in islands in such close proximity with rather frequent cultural contacts across the narrow, intervening waters. Dialects, tribal customs and traditions, and the life vary somewhat, but the western shores of New Britain, the eastern shores of the Huon Peninsula, and the intervening islands have all developed a common culture pattern.
Copra, or the dried meat of the coconut, is by far the most important commercial product of the archipelago. Its future in the sphere of plantation agriculture, however, does not seem very promising, owing to competition from other sources of supply, labor difficulties in the region, and the increasing use of vegetable-oil substitutes, such as cottonseed oil and peanut oil. Just before the Second World War the Agricultural Experiment Station at Rabaul was experimenting with a variety of other plantation crops, but the outlook at the time was not very hopeful as far as finding other mainstays was concerned.
Coffee, tea, derris root (for the insecticide rotenone), and a new variety of sisal from East Africa were thought to have possibilities. The war, however, put an end to these experiments, and the task of rebuilding is still far from complete. On the whole, it would seem that these islands enjoy certain advantages over New Guinea in the matter of fertile, volcanic soils, but suffer from rough topography, wet climate, and the absence of valuable mineral resources. The capital of the Territory of New Guinea will probably remain at Rabaul in spite of its vulnerable situation close to an active volcano, although a shift to Lae has been proposed.