export success story - Papua New Guinean Bilum
export success story - Papua New Guinean Bilum

Transforming a Papua New Guinean Tradition

Pacific Islands Trade & Invest is helping transform a Papua New Guinean tradition into economic success through the international promotion of one its iconic creative industries, bilum.

For centuries, the skill of weaving bilum – a bag made from dried fibre extracted from tree bark, animal fur, sisal or vine – has been passed down from one generation of women to the next. Traditionally, bilum bags were used to carry babies, food or tools, but until recently their economic value to Papua New Guinean communities was overlooked.

Through incorporating materials such as wool and some synthetic materials into the weave, bilum has also been adapted for more modern applications including clothing and fashion accessories.

Furthermore, the formation of the Bilum Weavers Cooperative in 2003 – a collective of female weavers in Goroka, Eastern Highlands Province, PNG – has enabled artisans to improve their economic and social situation, whilst at the same time preserving the tradition of indigenous crafts.

Pacific Islands Trade & Invest supported the Cooperative in launching the inaugural Goroka Bilum Festival in 2009. In addition to showcasing the creative arts of Papua New Guinea to global markets, the Festival was the first major cultural event dedicated solely to female artisans.

Pacific Islands Trade & Invest played an instrumental role in launching the Festival through developing a dedicated website, providing marketing and promotional advice and hosting key international guests to the event.

Creative Arts Manager for Pacific Islands Trade & Invest’s Sydney Office, Ruth Choulai, accompanied invited guest, Giles Peterson, to the Festival. A curator and lecturer at Whitecliffe College of Art and Design in Auckland, New Zealand, Mr Peterson’s visit to the Festival has helped to promote bilum as ‘pop art’ and wearable art in international markets .

“The potential for bilum in the international market is only limited by access to the buying market – it is instant wearable art” said Mr Peterson.