Mijts Blog

Baskets and Bilums

by on May.03, 2010, under Uncategorized

I now have quite a collection of baskets and a few bilums too! Most of these crafted items come from the highland areas of PNG. They are hand crafted and real works of Art. My BASKETS serve a variety of purposes –

as well as just being for decoration.

This recent addition to my collection stands about 70cm tall and has a diameter of 60cm – it will make a great laundry basket for the unit when we return home!

From time to time the ‘basket man’ arrives in Kokopo (from the highlands) and sells from outside the supermarket. Whenever he is there I go to check out his wares and do a bit of haggling about price – not too much as I feel guilty if I knock them down too much – but inevitably come away with a basket or two! He is never there for long as they sell very quickly.

If I had to choose a favourite – it would be this basket. It is so beatifully made and the pattern and colouring really appeals to me. Nick bought this for me from the basket man whilst I was on holidays in Africa last year.

The basket man was in town again last week and I went down to buy a couple of baskets to take home to Australia as gifts – I came home with a couple of trays for this purpose but also with two more items to add to my collection!

Taking these home as gifts for family/friend when I return to Aus next week.

Just couldn’t resist buying these two for myself! I know we’ll never be able to accommodate them all when we leave here but they look great in our house here with the beautiful polished timber floors. I am sure I’ll be easily able to offload the excess to family and friends!

I also have a few baskets that have been given to me as gifts – including these Buka baskets (from Bouganville) – thanks Anne – I love them!. While the baskets are known as ‘Buka Baskets’, the artists are in fact from Buin, South Bougainville. These baskets have very fine work to finish/strengthen them – like the cross-stitch effect around the top.

This is my market basket (also a gift – think it might be locally made??)

The local Tolai people make baskets for everyday usage – mostly carried by men – e.g. to work with their food etc inside. Some of the day students at the school where I volunteer also use them to carry lunches etc. I bought a large and a small one at the market to display on the wall and in some shelving. They were only about K6 ($2.50AUD).

My Tolai baskets.

Long before supermarkets were forced to give or sell non-plastic bags for customers to carry groceries, the women of Papua New Guinea (PNG) were using the ultimate shopping bag – a bilum.

The bilum is a traditional PNG string bag and they 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.

Originally made from traditional materials they are now usually made from commercially manufactured material such as nylon and wool. The original fibre was manufactured from the inner bark of the wild tulip tree and other readily available natural materials. 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. Then the bark is dried and the strands of bark are separated before the woman will rub the bark with her hand on her thigh to produce the strands of twine.

A bilum is almost a universal trademark of Papua New Guinea. See a bilum anywhere in the world and you know that person has some connection with PNG.
Bilums are used to carry a wide range of items, from shopping goods in large bilums to personal items in purse-sized varieties. Mothers often carry their babies in bilums and swinging a baby in a bilum usually guarantees a sleeping baby in a very short time. My housegirl’s little children even have their own small wool bilums – very cute!

Traditionally a bilum is carried around the forehead and hanging down the back. I have seen elderly PNG women laden down with heavy loads carried this way – bent over and heading to the market to sell their goods. Men and children also carry bilums – also usually on the forehead or sometimes hanging around the neck (on the chest or back).

I have received several bilums as gifts from national people – two like this one which are woven in a basket style. I use these for decoration only.

I also have two string bilums which I use regularly. They too were gifts from local people. They are great and stretch to hold a lot more than you would expect.

When we were going to America last year for Ben and Sarah’s wedding several of Nick’s office workers gave him wool bilums to take over to them. I recently bought the blue and green wool bilum at the market as I really liked the colours. I love the bilums – almost as much as the baskets. Bilums are often ‘decorated’ with tassels – and I have even seen bilums with feathers on them for adornment. I have no doubt that I will buy more bilums over the next couple of years!

Looking for something?

Use the form below to search the site:

Still not finding what you're looking for? Drop a comment on a post or contact us so we can take care of it!

Visit our friends!

A few highly recommended friends...