It is hard to travel anywhere in PNG without seeing a Bilium hanging of every second head or shoulder.  Meaning both “string bag” and “womb”, the Bilum is an item of both artistic and cultural significance.  Made from one single string that the maker continually adds to by rubbing the strings together across her thigh, each Bilum (both figuratively and literally) contains part of the maker in it.

Artistically (as with so much women’s craft across the globe) the Bilum remains undervalued as a form of expression.  While it’s utilitarian use is obvious and unquestionable, the proliferation of new designs and the speed through which the spread across provinces, the experimentation with new materials and more recently the divergence into fashion/clothing all demonstrate what a significant site Bilum is for Papua New Guinean Women’s ongoing artistic expression (and economic independence).  It is not uncommon for a women to be working on 2-3 Bilum’s at any one time.

Culturally, the Bilum has much significance.  It is often used in riturals and ceremonies, informal and formal gifting, features in myths and is always a central part of many tribes bilas.

Bilum’s can be found in the largest quantities in the markets of the Highlands, but also in Port Moresby outside the Holiday Inn and in some of the stores and galleries.  All Bilums below marked with # are for sale.

Recently a French company began producing shoulder bags calling them Bilums.  You can follow the reaction in PNG here.

Bilum Art