The Bilum of Papua New Guinea

By ICHCAP

The bilum of Papua
New Guinea is a timeless record of the country’s intangible cultural heritage.
In this exhibition, bilum pieces from twenty-five provinces in Papua New Guinea
are showcased. Communities have their own distinct art designs and skills of
making bilum based on ethnic tribes and environmental context.

PNG PREHISTORY (2016/2016)ICHCAP

Beginning of Bilum Art 

PNG prehistory of people's arrival to Pacific islands (now PNG islands) and their nomadic setting. Early people settled as nomads, hunters, gatherers. They lived in caves, huts, and shelters before having families and developing settlements.

PNG RENAISSANCE ITEMS 1 (2016/2016)ICHCAP

It is evident in PNG's prehistory period that people gathered a variety of items for survival, settling at one place, and begun developing primitive ideas suitable for domestication-the beginning of bilum-making concept.

TRADITIONAL COLOR DYING (2017) by Helen Christine KuliICHCAP

Bilum Fiber Colors

There are four primary colors used for bilum in traditional societies of Papua New Guinea: red, black, white, and yellow, which speak  of the country's national identity since they constitute the national flag. These are traditional colors that have distinct local dialect names of indigenous communities. The colors blend into different bilum structures depending on which societies they exist. They add flavor of variations and layers in pattern designs. The colors are extracted from local plants for dying fibers for bilum weaving. The process of color-making remains with indigenous communities as custodians of the traditional colors concept.

FIBER MAKING PLANTS (2016/2016)ICHCAP

PNG plants naturally and wildly grow in the country's tropical environment (on both coastal and higher altitudes) while others are nurtured. Distinct plants are used by different traditional societies. Fibers are extracted from barks of these plants.

COLOR DYING PLANTS (2017/2017)ICHCAP

Dye-producing plant species found in local environment vary in different traditional societies. Some of these plants like the turmeric as shown are grown in gardens and homes for easy access and usage.

FIBER SUN DRYING (2017/2017)ICHCAP

Extracted fibers are sun-dried for half or whole day depending on the type of fiber. Fiber is either hung or laid on a flat surface--both methods are accepted.

TRADITIONAL COLOR DYING (2017/2017)ICHCAP

Vibrant yellow color for dying is extracted from turmeric plant. It is a common color used for bilum and grass skirt-making. The main traditional colors are red, white, black, and yellow; supplementary colors are also used.

DYED STORED COLORED FIBER (2017/2017)ICHCAP

Color stored fiber is well dried and stored as fiber storage for bilum making. They easily accessed when needed for the type of bilum the weaver intends to make. Current generation of weaver used the main colors for traditional bilum weaving.

COLOR ARRANGEMENT (2017/2017)ICHCAP

Process of bilum making includes fiber arrangement done to determine the type of bilum feature the weaver intends to weave. The combination of fiber and color determines the traditional bilum piece and the flavor.

STORED FIBER (2017/2017)ICHCAP

The dried stored fiber is specifically selected by the weaver for specific bilum type. Different fiber texture is selected without blending to give the essence of the completed traditional bilum piece. Fiber blending is avoided.

BUKI ARAPESH ABELAM BILUM (2017/2017)ICHCAP

Structure of Bilum

The weavers carefully designed and built patterns for bilums representing their identity and culture in various traditional societies.

SEPIK BILUM STRUCTUTE (2017/2017)ICHCAP

This is the template structure of common Sepik bilum with different parts to be put together. It has standard layers including common colors, straight line patterns, and the number of used ropes. This maintains the strong identity of the common features of the popular Sepik sacred bilum.

BUKI ARAPESH DIALECT PATTERN NAMES (2017/2017)ICHCAP

These are main features of the popular sacred Sepik bilum designs and patterns. With names in Buki Arapesh dialect, these pieces depict the most sacred traditions, cultural values, rituals for harvest and festivals, leadership status, and prestige in a traditional social system.

PNG ANCIENT CLASSICAL ITEMS 2 (2016/2016)ICHCAP

Bilum Categories

The continuity of bilum concept can be best pictured with the development of five bilum categories: pig, baby, garden, bilum wear, and sacred bilums pieces for different purposes. The bilum concept surrounds people's daily life and existence. It occupies their own cultural spaces in traditional societies. 

Pig Bilum

As diversity is one of the characteristics of PNG, the country has many local dialects that refer to the pig bilum. The elder women weave the pig bilum with strong twisted ropes so that the piglets do not easily break them and escape into the bush.

Baby Bilum

The elderly and married women weave baby bilum using fine small twisted ropes. They use it to carry newborn babies like safe and comfortable sleeping beds enabling them to sleep long hours of the day. They are put to sleep by swaying them to lullabies.

BUKI ARAPESH ABELAM BILUM (2017/2017)ICHCAP

Sacred Bilum

Only elder women weave sacred bilum using fine twisted ropes. The structure of this bilum varies according to climate condition and environment setting. Variations of the bilum are determined by the features of the identities of indigenous tribes, ethnic traditions, and cultural values.

WOSERA BILUM (2017/2017)ICHCAP

North Wosera Bilum

The North Wosera bilums are found among the South Abelam people scattered on the low hills of Sepik plains of Maprik, East Sepik Province. The colors and pattern in layers and variations are distinct features in the common Sepik bilum.

YAMUK BILUM (2017/2017)ICHCAP

Yamuk Bilum

The Yamuk bilum is transmitted by Kapmakundi people of Wosera Gawi in East Sepik Province. It has two main features: the use of common colors and variations in patterns and designs. The Yamuk bilum occupies a distinct cultural space in the Kapmakundi society.

TELEPOMIN BILUM (2017/2017)ICHCAP

West Sepik Bilum

The West Sepik bilum is a combination of pure white pieces woven by women for various purposes. Different traditional societies of West Sepik have common features such as big bilum handles, single or double bilums, and white being the dominating choice of color of fiber.

MADANG BILUM (2017/2017)ICHCAP

Madang Bilum

The Madang bilum represents different societies of Madang Province, which is differentiated by its structure, colors, patterns, and designs.

MOROBE BILUM (2017/2017)ICHCAP

Morobe Bilum

The Morobe bilum pieces are found in different traditional societies of Morobe Province. Their features (such as colors, designs, and patterns) are very common. While they serve different purposes, they occupy a distinct cultural space in whichever traditional society that owns them.

GOROKA BILUM (2017/2017)ICHCAP

Goroka Bilum

The Goroka bilum occupies the cultural spaces of pig, baby, garden, bilum wear and sacred bilums serving different purposes.

SIMBU BILUM (2017/2017)ICHCAP

Simbu Bilum

For making a bilum wear and sacred bilum pieces, white fiber is twisted with cuscus fur to make the twisted ropes smooth and warm in cold climate in contrast to pig, baby, and garden bilums that are woven without cuscus fur. The Simbu bilum neither has any of the national colors nor pattern.

MT. HAGEN BILUM (2017/2017)ICHCAP

Mountain Hangen Bilum

Mountain Hagen bilum pieces are found in different traditional societies of Western Highlands Province. They have very common features in terms of colors and patterns that have distinct names in local dialects in the societies in which they are created.

S. HIGHLANDS BILUM (2017/2017)ICHCAP

S. Highlands Bilum

S. Highlands bilum has the common features in the structure with only pure white fiber in pig, baby, garden, bilum wear and sacred bilum. They have different sizes and are weaved with no designs and patterns.

RIGO BILUM (2017/2017)ICHCAP

Rigo Bilum

Rigo bilum pieces found in Central Province have distinct local dialect names and serve different purposes. The bilum has common features such as national colors, structure, designs, and patterns.

SEPIK TRADITIONAL DANCE BILUM DRESS (2017/2017)ICHCAP

Future of Bilum

Safeguarding traditional knowledge and skills on bilum-making enables the current generation to honor and dignify the cultural identity of traditional societies.

PATTERN MAKING (2016/2016)ICHCAP

Safeguarding knowledge and skills in traditional bilum-making contributes to the survival of the handicraft, opening up the possibility of a good future for it and for PNG. This enables the current generation to fully grasp the correct technical and social skills to continue and the production of and pass on the distinct traditional bilum of traditional societies.

SEPIK TRADITIONAL DANCE BILUM DRESS (2017/2017)ICHCAP

Traditional social systems have been evolved in modern society. The sacred bilum is now being used by the ordinal class individuals daily. And bilum dressing is common among school aged youth. As a valuable cultural item, the sacred bilum must be used in these activities for future generations.

Credits: Story

Curator: Helen Christine Kuli (Affiliated in the School of Humanities & Social Sciences, University of Papua New Guinea)

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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