News 6 Apr 2018
The popularity of Bilum bags at Auckland’s Pasifika Festival saw suppliers sell out. Gilda Lasibori, from the Bilum Export Promotion Association (BEPA) in Papua New Guinea says the handmade string bags, known as Bilum, are culturally iconic and internationally recognised as unique to her country.
“They’re a niche product and almost seen as a piece of art,” says Gilda (pictured centre), who also sold Bilum bags to the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa during their New Zealand visit.
Gilda’s organisation works with eight cooperatives in Papua New Guinea, some of which have around 20 members, others 50 to 100 members.
BEPA assists women from rural disadvantaged communities to export their Bilums. It also co-ordinates the training and capacity building of Bilum makers to produce quality Bilum for export.
“Museums wanted the bags alongside relics and other art pieces because the method is so unique and traditional. Yet they have a growing popularity as an everyday item,” she says.
Bilums are used to carry a wide range of items, from shopping goods in large bilums to personal items in purse-sized varieties. They also make earrings to match the bags.
Mothers often carry their babies in bilums, while local men usually prefer to use long handle styles so they can wear them over their shoulder, freeing their arms for other tasks, including carrying bush knives or to grab onto things while hiking mountains.
For Gilda, the most satisfying aspect is the much-needed income derived from selling the bilums to a wider market.
“We are meeting what the market wants and, by doing so, provide the chance for our makers to earn an income,” she says.
The visit was part of the Pasifika Business Market in March organised and hosted by Pacific Trade Invest (PTI) New Zealand. More than 30 Pacific Islands businesses from 11 countries took part in PTI’s Path to Market Programme.