Bilum Bags

Last week I was at LAX and had to stop a girl to ask where she had gotten her gorgeous & colorful bag. She was very excited to tell me it was from Papa New Guinea and was given to her as a gift by her friend when she had arrived there, which is customary. She said you could get them at the market’s for about $20.  Upon further research, I discovered they are called Bilum bags.  A Bilum bag is not only beautiful and unique, they also have cultural significance for the women of Papa New Guinea as part of their ongoing artistic expression and economic independence.

*fun fact.  Until 1933 seashells were the currency in some regions of Papa New Guinea.

( images from here, here, and here )

links to purchase bilum bags, and much cheaper here

Leave a Comment


  1. tammy wrote:

    these are beautiful and enjoyed the background info–thanks for sharing the cool things that your great eyes see and the rest of us obviously miss

  2. Chrissy wrote:

    Up in the Western Highlands of Papua New Guinea there is a self help initiative for women living with HIV and Aids. They support themselves and their families by weaving beautiful bilums. You can read their stories and see their bilums on their website at They only sell wholesale but its worth a look.

  3. Milly wrote:

    As a person who spent a part of her formative childhood years in PNG I have to say I don’t quite understand why bilums haven’t made a big Fashion Statement. They are not only beautiful but incredibly strong and last for decades. My Aunt’s had hers for almost 25years now and its still not worn out. They are used for everything including as a hammock for infants and heavy loads of root vegetables from the market. They can come in extremely large sizes. I have to say however that the material which I’ve seen some bilums made from recently don’t look quite the same so I am not sure about their strength or durability.

  4. Ant wrote:

    In West Papua, these are called Noken. All the uses Milly has described are the same. They used to be made out of string made out of tree bark, but nylon is more widely used now, for the wide array of colors available.

  5. Sotero O. Malayao Jr. wrote:

    I nspent 16 months in the highlands at the province of Simbi/Chimbu, at the town of Kundiawa. I taught science and mathematics at Holy Rosary School-Kondiu. If there is one thing priceless i got from Papua New Guinea is the skill of making Bilum. I may post soon the bilums i made here in Philippines.

  6. the nice photograph. thanks for shared