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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, such as this example from the Sepik River region, 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.

Today, women across PNG are producing contemporary '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 women to earn a living for their families.


Place where the work was made

East Sepik Province Papua New Guinea


circa 1960s

Media category


Materials used

plant fibre string, natural dyes


20.0 cm height; 32.0 cm length across bottom (relaxed); handle 54.0 cm length


Gift of Peter Sack 2016


Not on display

Accession number



Where the work was made
East Sepik Province