| Asia Pacific Report | Extracts
AUCKLAND - Papua New Guinean academics and community leaders in Aotearoa New Zealand tackle their concerns about climate change and mental health issue in the Pacific through a traditional and famous craft – weaving bilums.
Late last year, a Papua New Guinea cultural language week was held by the PNG Community Trust in Manawatu region at Rangiora Community Hall in Palmerston North.
Bilum-making was introduced to the audience through a presentation by Dr Hennah Steven who recently completed her doctorate in development studies from Massey University.
Dr Steven described the bilum as a handcrafted bag that had been passed down from generation to generation, saying it was a craft that the women in Papua New Guinea and other Melanesian societies.
She said a bilum was a “famous item” carried everywhere in PNG.
“It is a women’s leisure activity, where we normally sit down and make bilum,” she said.
“Bilum was also a cultural element. If you go to PNG, everywhere people carry at least one bilum – from a little child to young people and to old people – they always carry a bilum.”
Dr Steven said the bilum has several purposes and during casual occasions people carry a small one.
On special occasions – like at a funeral – people used longer ones that were made of traditional materials such as tulip tree and sisal fibre.
Following the presentation, skilful women and men bilum-weavers from Manawatu’s PNG community gave a display.
Dr Sageo-Tapungu said bilums represent the foundation of society and womanhood.
“Babies sleep in the bilum because its design is similar to that of the womb. Food and firewood is carried in a bilum. We adorn our bodies with bilums during our traditional celebrations,” she said.
“Bilums are given as gifts to our precious loved ones. We carry our most precious possessions in the bilum and we do not open another person’s bilum because we do not want to invade their privacy.
“It represents our Melanesian worldview and is sacred and precious.”
Paul Titus, who has been living in New Zealand since 2003 and frequently visits his home country, said bilum-making had a great benefit over health issues, particularly mental health.
Women came together and while making bilum, they are able to share their stories. They feel relief from the stress of any problem that they are going through.
Laurens Ikinia is studying for a Master’s degree in journalism at Auckland University of Technology. He contributes to Asia Pacific Report