Aitape, in the far northwest of Papua New Guinea, is part of the Sandaun Province, whose name means "where the sun goes down." In the aftermath of the devastating tidal waves, the name seems all too chillingly apt.

After the droughts and fires in the region last year, the tsunami that killed at least 2,000 people is likely to be interpreted as a sign of the end of the world and second coming of Christ."People will see this as the wrath of God - a punishment or act of cleansing before the millennium," said Christine Kocher-Schmid, research fellow in the anthropology department at Kent University in England.

"The discourse on the millennium is particularly strong in this area as people struggle to get to grips with bits of information trickling in from the outside world. It is a very isolated place where information is only transmitted orally and tends to become very colored by the Catholic mission."

Aitape and the outlying islands are described by anthropologists as a "backwater" of Papua New Guinea. Like many of the 700 cultures that make up the island nation, life is based on subsistence and there is little contact with the outside world.

In the villages, built on sand banks, daily life revolves around gardening, fishing and trade, which is conducted by canoe with neighboring islands.

Papua New Guinea, however, promotes itself as a nation proud of its Christian faith. An editorial in the newspaper The National this week declared that "the Lord will see us through this tragedy."

People in the Sandaun Province continue to treat Catholic priests as Big Men, presenting them with gifts. In turn, the Catholic Church tries to incorporate traditional dancing and ceremonies into its worship.

In a remote environment, beyond the range of even the national radio station, and where the only books available are Bibles and old school textbooks, news from the outside world is often wildly reinterpreted.

For the people still living in and around Aitape, it will be hard not to see the recent disaster as a portent of incredible things to come.