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Okapa (Moke), Okapa District, Eastern Highlands Province, Papua New Guinea

Bilum (looped string bag)
Other titles:
Billum bag
Place of origin
Okapa (Moke)Okapa DistrictEastern Highlands ProvincePapua New Guinea
Cultural origin
Fore people
mid 20th century
collected 1964
Media category
Materials used
looped plant-fibre string, pale red and brown plant dye

42.0 x 44.0 cm looped bag, expandable:

0 - Whole; 42 cm; height at side seam

0 - Whole; 41 cm; width across bottom edge

0 - Whole; 44 cm; diameter across top opening

Gift of Stan Moriarty 1977
Accession number
© Fore people, under the endorsement of the Pacific Islands Museums Association's (PIMA) Code of Ethics
Not on display
Further information

Across Papua New Guinea the humble string bag, or 'bilum', is the most common accessory of everyday life. 'Bilum' are almost always made by women, created using a looping technique with a single length of hand-spun plant fibre. They vary in size from large expandable open-looped carryalls to small tightly looped objects used as amulets or ceremonial objects. Patterns are incorporated into the construction using coloured fibres dyed with extracts from flowers, berries and other plants.

'Bilum' bags carried by women hold everything from firewood to babies. Men's 'bilum' are used to store ritual paraphernalia, heirlooms and everyday items, including pipes and tobacco.

Today, women produce 'bilum' with modern designs using colourful acrylic and wool yarns. The looping technique is also used to fashion spectacular clothing, known as 'bilumwear'. These new creations have established a sustainable means for highlands women to earn a living for their families.

[Exhibition text for 'Plumes and pearlshells: art of the New Guinea highlands', AGNSW, 2014]

Bibliography (1)

Natalie Wilson (Editor), Plumes and pearlshells: art of the New Guinea highlands, Sydney, 2014, 21, 133 (colour illus.), 163. 76

Exhibition history (2)

The 'Moriarty' exhibition, Manly Art Gallery and Museum, Sydney, 01 Nov 1964–31 Dec 1964

Plumes and pearlshells: art of the New Guinea highlands, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 30 May 2014–10 Aug 2014