The brightly coloured patterns of Papua New Guinea’s Bilum bags will be showcased at Auckland’s Pasifika Festival 2017 on March 25-26.

The showcase is part of the Pacific Trade & Invest (PT&I) NZ Pacific Path to Market programme, a structured approach to helping businesses entering the New Zealand market.  PT&I New Zealand held Pacific Path to Market workshops in Port Moresby last year as part of 10 workshops held across the Pacific Islands.

Bilum is a traditional form of weaving done by the women in PNG. The style is distinctly from PNG with beautiful vibrant colours and patterns woven into the string bags and clothing.

Sharlene Gawi is the Executive Officer of the Bilum Export Promotion Association (BEPA) established in 2015, based in PNG capital Port Moresby.

BEPA was formed as part of an economic empowerment project through the exports of handicrafts funded by the Australian Government and managed by the International Trade Centre.

BEPA has established contact with and trained 12 co-operatives of 650 women throughout  the Bilum weaving areas of PNG.

Bilums are a traditional handwoven bag. Traditionally made using extracted and dried tree bark fibre that was twisted into string and woven into a bag that was used to carry babies, food, or anything else that needed carrying.  Bilums have also been used for traditional ceremonial attire and in exchanges for ceremonies such as bride-price and marriage ceremonies.

Today, Bilums are made using acrylic yarn and nylon string which give the weavers an array of colours to weave with and form various colourful surface patterns. Traditional and modern designs are woven to make beautiful surface patterns and styles vary based on what Bilums are used for. Most Papua New Guineans still use the Bilum bags to carry to work or school or as give away gifts to visitors and even still to put babies in and rock them to sleep.

“Our scope of work includes acting as a middle man to promote Bilum and Bilum products and identify and access markets for our members in our co-operatives,” Ms Gawi said.

BEPA has formed strategic partnerships with the Tourism Industry Association and the PNG Small Medium Enterprise Corporation.

“BEPA also looks for opportunities through the affiliations and partnerships with SME corporations and the Tourism Industry Associations and such, to empower our members through financial literacy, opening bank accounts and adult literacy.”

BEPA staff attended the PT&I Pacific Path to Market Workshop in Port Moresby last year.

“It showed us the difference in just selling a Bilum and having proper systems and documentation which help in finding a niche market for your product and how to attract the bigger clients,” Ms Gawi said.

BEPA is coming to New Zealand’s Pasifika Festival with the objective of showcasing the Bilum and what BEPA does and gauging the New Zealand knowledge and response to Bilum with a view to getting prospective clients and orders for Bilum products.

Bilum is quite popular in Australia and the Pacific region, however, there is not much steady supply.  “New Zealand is a market that we are not familiar with,” said Ms Gawi.  She will be bringing several different styles of Bilum and some of the Bilum products samples that have been developed for the international market.

The popularity of Bilum wear is one that has been gradually growing, its potential bubbling away gently since one of PNG’s local woman entrepreneurs Florence Jaukae showcased a Bilum dress back in 2000 at the Miss PNG competition.  PT&I has an established association with Florence Jauke and PNG Bilum wear through PT&I Australia’s annual Maketi Ples exhibitions and other trade visits watching Bilum’ popularity rise, since the early 2000’s.

For more information please contact Joe Fuavao, PT&I Trade Development Manager on




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