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What Is a Bilum Bag?

September 23, 2021

If you’re looking for a stylish accessory, then you can’t go wrong with a bilum bag. Bilum bags are a fashionable mix between tropical tradition and advanced weaving techniques. They are attractive yet practical, with plenty of space for all of your things.

However, these bags are still new to many fashionistas in Australia. Here is everything that you need to know about the bilum bag, including where do bilum bags come from and how are bilum bags made.

What Are Bilum Bags?

Bilum bags are woven, slouchy bags made of natural fibres. You can recognise them by their loose shape, natural colour, and stretchy capabilities. Usually, they have a long strap so you can wear them on your shoulder or as a cross-body bag.

A bilum bag is made to be stretchy, so you can fit everything that you need inside without worrying about the bag ripping or breaking a zipper. These bags are perfect for a beach day or even an adventure around the city.

Where Do Bilum Bags Come From?

These bags originate from Papua New Guinea. The island country contains many ethnic groups and tribes with diverse languages, customs, and societies, but the tradition of the bilum bag unites many of these groups.

These bags are traditionally woven only by women. The laborious weaving technique and different design patterns are passed down matrilineally and make up an important part of maintaining oral tradition and cultural legacy. Although only women make them, they are worn by men and women. For men, a bilum bag may be a status symbol that represents the man’s ancestral matrilineal lineage. Women even use bags to carry their children.

Besides their practical use for forage and daily chores, these bags also have a strong symbolic purpose. Traditionally, they were exchanged at ritual exchanges and played an important part in spiritual rituals. Nowadays, these bags play an important role in the tourism industry as many Papua New Guinea women make them and then sell them to tourists.

How Are Bilum Bags Made?

Traditionally, these bags are made with natural fibres and dyes. Papua New Guinea women would gather fibrous plants such as Pandanus and Tulip Tree fibres. Then, they would twist these fibres into string, sometimes dyeing them with natural materials such as turmeric.

Nowadays, many women use more readily available, synthetic materials such as yarn. Although this has helped increase the rate of production, it means that some of the traditional knowledge behind each bilum bag is in danger of being lost.

Once a weaver has her strings ready, she creates a bilum bag by looping the strings together in a pattern that strongly resembles netting. Although the bag has no knots, it is still strong and durable.

How to Style a Bilum Bag

These bags have centuries, if not millennia, of tradition, but their appearance is still stylishly modern. Many fashionistas have started wearing them to add a casual, boho flair to any outfit that is still practical.

You can get a traditional-looking bilum bag, which is a natural colour, or find a more vibrant one with colourful patterns. The choice is up to you.

These bags are versatile enough that you can wear them for many occasions and pair them with any outfit. For a beach day, throw on a flowy dress or cover-up and grab your bilum bag, which can fit your towel, sunscreen, sunglasses, and more. Or, pair your bag with a button-down and nice jeans for a day around the city.

Bilum bags are an excellent way to honour the tradition of master craftswomen from Papua New Guinea while adding a stylish, bohemian touch to any outfit. Best of all, they are large and stretchy enough to fit anything that you need for a day on the go.