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Pacific art

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Bilum (looped string bag)

mid 20th century
collected 1964


Unknown Artist


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]


Other Title

Billum bag

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 (16 9/16"), height at side seam

0 - Whole, 41 cm (16 1/8"), width across bottom edge

0 - Whole, 44 cm, diameter across top opening


Gift of Stan Moriarty 1977


Not on display

Accession number


Shown in 2 exhibitions

Exhibition history

Referenced in 1 publication


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