A bilum is a traditional woven string bag made by women in Papua New Guinea.
These simple, ethical bags, handmade from natural materials, have practical, cultural and emotional significance. Making them requires artisan skills, in a process that is intricate and labour intensive.
Local plants are harvested, cleaned and sun-dried, which can take months.
Dried fibres are made into a string called bush rope: strips are hand rolled, back and forth on the weaver’s thigh, to form long twisted threads.
The threads are dyed, using natural plant-based dyes, and woven into bags.
Bilum bags have many uses: as everyday bags for carrying shopping or firewood; as body decorations for ceremonial celebrations; and as hammocks to carry babies.
Interestingly, in the national language, a mother’s womb is called ‘bilum bilong baby’ which translates as “bag of the baby!’
Bilum bags offer an economic lifeline for the women of Papua New Guinea, a source of livelihood passed down from mother to daughter.
For some, it is their first opportunity to enter the formal economy and to support their families.