Bilum Bags West Papua






From Construction to Ritual Function ‘An Exploration of New Guinea Fiber Masterworks’


Designers: Women are the primary creators of the Bilum bag although in some mountain tribes men are known to create functional open looped bilum bags.

Design Concept: ‘Made from two-ply fiber cord, Bilums are constructed in a single-element looping technique. In an interplay between form and function—the strength and functionality of the open looping technique has made it indispensable in New Guinea. Bilums, an essential accessory of domestic and ritual life, are present during each stage of life’s cycles. Newborn babies are cradled in the bilum and the bilum symbolically is referred to the mother’s womb. At the end of the life, sacred bilums are used to carry the bones of the deceased.

The universal importance of the bilum is described by a Tona woman interviewed in 1984 by Auther Maureen A. Mackenzie: “If there wasn’t such a thing as a bilum, then, my word, there wouldn’t be anything. The bilum is the bones of our people. We only need to know how to make one thing, the bilum, because it is such a good and usefulthing.” In addition, the bilum bag serves as a marker of clan membership with each cultural group employing their own unique combination of raw materials, dyes, design elements, applied accessory objects, and variations of the looping technique. Women are primary creators of the bilum bag; however, there is a division of labor in bilum making that is not consistent throughout New Guinea. While most commonly men’s bilum making is limited to the creation of ritual bags and attire using tight looping techniques or in embellishing bilums worked by a woman, in some highland groups men also create a functional open looped bilum.’

Who is it designed for? Bilum Bags are created for the needs of people who need to carry goods and babies.


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