Gilda Lasibori of the Bilum Export & Promotion Association (BPA PNG) will be coming to the Pasifika Business Market in March with a selection of Bilum. The handmade string bags, known as Bilum are culturally iconic and internationally recognised as unique to Papua New Guinea (PNG), but the handicraft is not often seen in New Zealand.

This year, Pacific Trade Invest (PTI) New Zealand will feature Bilum its new Pasifika Business Market at Pasifika Festival.  More 30 Pacific Island businesses from 11 countries have been invited to Pasifika as part of PTI NZ’s Path to Market programme.  Path to Market is a series of structured stages aimed at helping potential Pacific Island exporters understand the New Zealand market.  PTI NZ works with local economic development agencies such as the Chambers of Commerce or Investment Promotion Authorities in each country to identify potential exporters for the Path to Market in-country workshops.  The next step of Path to Market is attending the Pasifika Festival followed by a Gap Analysis, Site visits and one to one business meetings.

Gilda Lasibori will be attending the Pasifika Festival on behalf of BEPA.  The organisation currently works with 8 cooperatives, some of which have 20 members, others have 50 to 100 members.

BEPA PNG assists women from rural disadvantaged communities to export their Bilums.  BEPA PNG also co-ordinates the training and capacity building of Bilum makers to produce quality Bilum for export.

“I think coming to Pasifika will provide more opportunities for BEPA to extend our customer base, so we can sell more Bilums internationally,” Ms Lasibori said.

They will bring Bilums, Bilum dresses and jewellery using Bilum weaving techniques to the Pasifika Festival.

“Our objective is to sell all the Bilums we are bringing with us and we would like to return with more than 20 new clients who will continue to do business with us,” she said.

Bilum bags were traditionally made in a variety of shapes and styles with patterns reflecting the weaver’s background, current events and familial stories.   They were used functionally to carry firewood, harvested vegetables and carrying new born babies.

Bilum were also very important to the community because traditionally they were used as ceremonial gifts.

“Today they can be sold for cash which helps to pay for school fees, medicines and clothes,” said Mrs Lasibori.

Bilums were traditionally made from natural fibres using dried leaves, grasses or bark.  The fibres were hand twisted into yarn that could be dyed with natural colours from fruits, vegetables or leaves.  The yarn was then woven into a Bilum using a needle or ‘nil’ using a looping technique.

In recent times, Bilum weaving has adapted to using synthetic fibres such as acrylic yarn and nylon string in a variety of colours.  Bilum is used for bags and now made into handwoven colourful dresses, and jewellery.

Bilum are very popular in PNG, sold through craft markets and on roadsides markets. It is estimated more than 500 Bilums are sold monthly.  Bilums and baskets to being sold currently to Australia, Thailand, Malaysia and America.

For more information please contact PTI NZ Trade Development Manager Ian Furlong on ian.f@pacifictradeinvest.co.nz

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