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Pacific art

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Bilum (looped string bag)

circa 1960s


Unknown Artist


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

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

This distinctive 'bilum' is commonly known as 'Madang style', due to the use of red and blue plant dyes in a checkerboard pattern and fringed with lengths of dyed fibres. It is made by women in communities from across the Madang region of PNG. Each pattern tells a unique story, carrying great cultural significance for the woman that made it.


Place where the work was made

Madang Province Papua New Guinea

Cultural origin

Madang people


circa 1960s

Media category


Materials used

plant fibre string, natural dyes


38.0 cm height; 58.0 cm width across bottom (relaxed); handle 64.0 cm length


Gift of Peter Sack 2016


Not on display

Accession number



Where the work was made
Madang Province