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19 March 2017


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The older style bilums made out of plant fibre and coloured with vegetable dyes are much more attractive than the one's made out of modern wool and cotton.

However, to make them would be even more labour intensive Robert.

Someone needs to invent a bilum-making machine.

I work for the Research & Conservation Foundation, a national conservation NGO based in Goroka (EHP). We operate the Crater Mountain Wildlife Management Area (CMWMA) in close collaboration with customary landowners.

Our approach is conservation and development and some years back we promoted the production and sale of handicrafts including bilums as an alternative income source for women in these remote areas where economic opportunities are scarce.

However we received some rather strong criticisms that bilum-making as an economic enterprise tends to increase the already high (demanding) workload on the local womenfolk because they already have too much on their plates. What do readers think about this argument?

Peter, you have done well to promote the bilum, a part of our rich culture through writing this good piece.

I have promoted it by wearing a highlands cap and a bilum and giving them as presents where ever I have gone - from England to America, Mexico to Australia.

I believe different cultures of the world should be shared, appreciated and treasured.

Dear Arthur Williams,

Thank you for this pieces on your experience with the bilum. I am collecting pieces from those who wish to share theirs on bilum. Please do buzz me via email below. Thank you once again. email: pekinjap[at]

Pasuwe Ltd with its 30 plus stores all bar 3 in the rural areas did its bit to promote women with its bilum buying scheme in the 70 and 80s.

The stores involved were each given a template by which to calculate payment for the many varying sizes that the Highland ladies manged to weave in their ‘spare’ time while making gardens, looking after pigs, husband, kids and new born babies and marketing veggies to provide income for their families.

On the template the area manager of Pasuwe would have drawn the various sizes of the bilum from smallest and cheapest to largest. I told my trade store manager to pay the lady the written price and then place a small piece of cardboard inside showing what it had been bought for.

My guys, no woman ran a store, would then parcel them up and send them to me on a MAF flight to my base in Kawito. Some I sold locally in our Aramia River stores but most would be shipped into our HQ in Gordons for direct sale there to staff, missos and in our Korobosea, June Valley shops.

Laurie Johnson Area Manager in Mt Hagen did the same with his group of rural stores. I think that originally it may have been his initiative which would provide the template idea for its uniformity of prices.

Some years later when I was working in Tari my coastal wife would carefully watch the Huli ladies weaving their new bilums while sitting on the ground at the market selling produce.

She eventually was able to make her own quite well woven version from both local natural strings she bought and back in New Ireland would make pretty ones with patterns using commercial twines.

I had quite a good collection of them from several highland areas in one of our bush material homes along with other collected artefacts. Sad to say most were destroyed in a ceremonial after death fire by my brothers in law.

The one I have on my hallway wall was a gift I received in a feast in Goroka in 2008 and the one in my computer room was a parting gift from an earlier departure that somehow avoided the fire.

Memories of the ‘good old days’.

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