What Is A Bilum?
Bilum is perhaps the most significant word in Tok Pisin, one of three official languages of Papua New Guinea (PNG) meaning ‘womb’. Bilum is the place from which all life begins. Bilum bags are an integral part of PNG culture and a crucial source of income for many women, often providing them with their only opportunity to enter the formal economy.
A Bilum bag is hand-woven using weaving techniques that has been passed down through many generations. A skill primarily practiced by women, Bilum weaving traditionally used natural fibers from barks of plants and shrubs however more recently also being made from acrylic and wool yarn. Culturally Bilum bags are used as gifts between mothers, sons, daughters, wives, and husbands. Gifted to extended family, friends, loved ones, and new acquaintances, they are often used to signify the establishment of a new relationship, as mementos from hometowns, or as a symbol of wealth and positions in society. Used daily the Bilum bags become a functional item carrying produce from the market, transporting babies, and for ceremonial celebrations. Bilum bags form part of the rich cultural tapestry of PNG.
A woman's personality, creativity, and self-expression can be seen in the use of traditional patterns, new designs, and expressive colour combinations, Bilum weaving is a proud example of PNG’s creativity that has emerged from different traditions around the country that strike a harmonious balance between a global ascetics and local culture. A powerful tool of empowerment for PNG women, Bilum weaving provides women with an important source of income. The World Intellectual Property Organization reports that 80% of Bilum weavers are illiterate with little education, many are single mothers and have limited access to healthcare, and live in inadequate conditions. The sale of Bilum weaving can have a profound effect on the lives of weavers and their families, for every 100 Bilum’s sold, 50 women are able to send their children to school and support their family for a year. The Bilum bag has the power to transform the lives of weavers through a creative and cultural practice that provides access to life-changing income, become part of the movement today!