Art requires certain skills and it is obvious that Papua New Guinea has got some of those talents that are hidden that needs to be exposed. Bilum (string bag) making is done mostly by women because men do not have the skills and the know-how to make this spectacular designs.
Nevertheless, men in some of the most remote areas are breaking the barrier in doing some of the finest string bags in Papua New Guinea. One of the obstacles in this art of making string bags is a proper venue to sell and show-cast their skills.
( Women making bilums - considered a past-time activity but economically viable)
The bilum is a traditional PNG string bag and have been made in PNG for centuries. Bilums come in a variety of shapes and styles and are made for different purposes. Bilums are made to carry food, to carry babies in and to use for leisure. People can identify a person just by the creative design or style woven on the bilum. Despite the many different aspects and purposes of bilums they all are made from the same basic weaving method. In Papua New Guinea the fibre normally used in traditional bilum making is manufactured from the inner bark of the wild tulip tree. First the bark is soaked in a stream or the sea for up to 8 months until the material that binds the bark twine together rots.
(Women love doing what they do best in PNG style)
Then the bark is dried and the strands of bark are separated before the woman (usually women however sometime men as the example of the Huti Tribesmen from the Highlands) will rub the bark with her hand on her thigh to produce the strands of twine. There is a whole range of methods for dyeing the twine. Sometimes the twine is rubbed on a white stone and the result is like the Bilum pictured - pure white. Another method is to soak the twine in mud before weaving. Slate stone, orchid bark and roots; jungle grasses are some of the materials used to produce dye. Burnt shell is often used to make the dye fast. Some special seashells area also crushed to produce a dark red dye. The end result is often striking especially the earthy colors.
Papua New Guinea's bulk of the population (95%) live in the rural areas and it is difficult to generate an income. Had the government provided a better market for this very skillful craftsmen and women, they would have earned an honest income to support their families, which most of these families live on less than five kina ($2) a day or no money at all. The biggest buyers of all these string bags are the tourist from all around the world.
Some of these craftsmen are talented that they can customized your order to suit your needs. Completing a string bag depends on how sizes, materials, money, and designs requested. Typically, it takes a week for some while others take two weeks to complete. String bags can come in different sizes and colors to suit your needs. Recently some of these craftsmen custom -design the flags of certain countries so that the color depicts what flags stand for. To view some of these dynamic artwork , check the bottom of this blog for pictures by various travellers who visited Papua New Guinea.
The skills in making such stunning designs such as bilum making is not learned but rather a gift from God that men and women seem to utlize these days. Not only does making bilums provides little cash but it helps families to accumulate much needed funds to cater for hefty school fees. For the bulk of people who live in the rural areas of Papua New Guinea, this is just another good story to help make their lives easier.