Source of livelihood

A bilum is a traditional woven string bag worn mainly by women in Papua New Guinea (PNG). They come in different colours and styles according to their origin, so bilums from the Highlands region are generally made of wool and brightly coloured, while Gulf bilums are made of animal fur or vines, and its drab colours come from natural, plant-based dyes.

These bags are a crucial source of livelihood for PNG women, providing many their first opportunity to enter the formal economy and earn money in areas such as the Highlands, where inhabitants of remote villages have few opportunities outside of low-income subsistence farming.

Women thus become empowered as micro-entrepreneurs, elevating their status in the rural communities they belong to, and boosting their decision-making power within their own families. Apoa Komia, 45, has been making and selling bilums for a decade and displays her stock on the fence that surrounds Mt Hagen Airport. —