A Bilum bag is a cultural icon, inextricably woven into the social and cultural fabric of Papua New Guinea. People write songs and poems about their Bilums. They are tokens of love, reminders of home, holders of magic and symbols of wealth and position. For many, they are memories of lost childhoods.
If you are given a Bilum bag it is an expression of love and emotion. It is said that 'The happier the weaver, the more beautiful the Bilum'. The women tell traditional stories as they weave; stories of sorcerers, mothers, young girls, babies, mountains and marriage. When your daughter gets married you give her a diamond design Bilum bag, a mountain design on a Bilum indicates the landscape of where you are from. The history of Papua New Guinea is woven into every Bilum bag.
I first saw a Bilum bag in 2014, I was so inspired by its beauty, colours and physical strength. I wanted to better understand the history and technique behind such an original piece of design work. Through my research and my journeys to Papua New Guinea I found a community of women; weaving, caring, story telling and living through the making of Bilum bags. I set up AmongEquals to work with these talented women of Papua New Guinea, and to bring my skills and experience as a Fashion and Textile designer of 20 years in London, New York and Sydney, to create a bag of deep cultural significance with a contemporary twist.
"The money from Among Equals to the Goroka Bilum weavers has enabled the women to pay for all the little girls to attend school. Your support has meant that we can pay for our healthcare, our traditional obligations and the things we need for our home. It has made a huge difference to us."
- Florence Jaukae Kamel
AmongEquals is a social enterprise, aimed at empowering Bilum makers in three communities in the highlands of Papua New Guinea. Their worlds are complex, often violent and insecure. Through an ongoing relationship with these women my aim is to provide them with sustainable incomes and to help ensure Bilum remains a viable art form for future generations.