All about the bilum


Utilitarian in its functionality and stunning in its creative expression, a bilum is the traditional string bag made by Papua New Guinean women. This traditional craft is a skill passed from generation to generation. A bilum is made in a variety of shapes and styles depending on its purpose. The patterns reflect provenance, current events and stories; each bag is imbued with layers of rich historical, cultural and symbolic significance.

A traditional woman’s bilum has a short, wide handle that fits around the forehead, so the bag hangs down her back and leaves her hands free. Her bilum can expand to ten times its ‘resting’ size when filled with firewood, harvested yams, and often a baby coddled comfortably in a blanket!


QAGOMA has bought a range of unique bilums as part of our ‘No. 1 Neighbour: Art in Papua New Guinea 1966-2016’ exhibition. The bags illustrated are just a small selection of what we have available, but remember – if you have a favourite, they are one of a kind and will sell out quickly!

By purchasing a bilum at the QAGOMA store, you are supporting BEPA, a non-profit organisation that protects bilum weavers from financial insecurity. Learn more about each bag’s individual story and significance with our instore guides.

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Installation view of ‘No. 1 Neighbour: Art in Papua New Guinea 1966-2016’ featuring bilums from the Gallery’s Collection / Photograph: Natasha Harth © QAGOMA

‘No. 1 Neighbour: Art in Papua New Guinea 1966-2016’ focuses on the vibrancy of contemporary artistic expression within PNG. It shows at the Queensland Art Gallery until 29 January 2017 and is a free exhibition.


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