Perhaps there is no greater representation of PNG that immediately sets a cultural understanding and bond than when a Papua New Guinean abroad sees another person carrying a bilum.
Bilums were traditionally found mostly in mainland New Guinea though now they are wide spread throughout the country. Woven from tree bark fibre, the coastal regions dyed theirs in shades of purple and red and their entwining loose so it is see through. Highlanders adorned their decorative bilums by weaving with possum fur or vibrant village chicken feathers. The occasional small animal trophies like bird claws and beaks also hung splendid.
Today’s versions are made of woven synthetic wool, and as it has become much easier for weaving, the designs have become more completed. Weavers are currently exploring the formal handbag styl, which has as many as four zipped pockets, dual internal pockets and purse sling handle rings for style.
Other products that are often woven apart from the bilum are the famous highlands caps and the bilum wear/dress, which has recently made it into the bilum market and has made its mark on the international stage.
Weavers have since extended the boundaries of bilum making to other curious products like car seat covers and flowerpot hangers. Even the tradition of carrying sleeping babies in bilums has been enlarged to carrying adults in bilum hammocks.
This thriving informal sector is certain to introduce some more exciting products as our weavers become more creative.