Your Among Equals Bilum bag is a joyful work of art, handcrafted by a female artisan living in regions throughout Papua New Guinea, including the Highlands, Port Moresby, Telefomin and along the Sepik River. These weavers have a unique flair for colour and pattern and their vibrant designs capture their spiritual and cultural heritage. Working with unravelled yarns from woollen jumpers or handwoven fibres sourced from surrounding vegetation, along with the natural dyes made from plants, ochres and berries, each bag tells a story of strength and hope.
FLORENCE JAUKAE KAMEL
Florence, known fondly as the 'Bilum Meri', is a fiercely passionate advocate for the women Bilum weavers of Papua New Guinea and an integral part of Among Equals as an aggregator. In 2013 Florence started the Bilum Festival, not long after leaving a home rife with domestic violence. Florence is the epitome of strength, humility and what it means to be a woman forging a better future for the children of multiple communities. She works tirelessly to lift her sister weavers, and to promote Bilum at an international level.
“If you are buying Bilum through Among Equals, you are buying a bag that has a very big downstream effect. One Bilum benefits 10 to 15 people. Families are supported, children go to school, and it is life-changing.”
When you first meet Lina you immediately get pulled in by her energy, she is the most remarkable spirit. For the past 22 years, Lina has made it her mission to connect women living in remote villages along the Sepik River in PNG by training them to become independent and highly-skilled Bilum weavers. In a small motorboat, she travels up and down the Sepik, it’s an arduous four-day journey under the hot sun. At each village, she meets groups of women at the river’s bank to help sell their weavings and this has proved an invaluable life source.
ON HER ULTIMATE DREAM:
“I never stop dreaming, I’m always hopeful. I feel strongly, you must never give up hope and I’ve always pushed that point with the women. Together, we can do anything. We are fortunate in that we are a wonderful community of women and we all support each other. My home is not in an ideal place to create a studio for the women, it’s muddy and the land is polluted [by oil], but we do need a space where the weavers can come together. That’s something I dream about and the income generated through Among Equals goes towards that dream. I know we will get there.”
Artisan weaver Barbara Pagasa lives with her husband, Michael, in Mount Hagen in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea. She is a wonderful ambassador and aggregator of Bilum for Among Equals and also a much-loved group leader and dedicated program coordinator at House Of Hope, a refuge she established for women requiring healthcare. Barbara takes these women in with tremendous compassion, warmth and kindness.
Much like the joyful colour palettes she chooses, Tama has the most wonderful spirit and energy. She lives near Goroka with her 14-year-old son, and from the income she makes through Bilum, Tama is able to send him to school and provide essentials for her family.
SHOP BILUM HANDCRAFTED BY TAMA
In July, our team travelled to Goroka, in Papua New Guinea’s Eastern Highlands Province, to reunite with the weaving communities for a special Bilum market celebration and to lens a series of illuminating portraits that speaks to the strength of the weavers.
Here, divine Oteme, a wonderful spirit, whose colourful Bilum bags always grab our attention. This portrait was photographed on a misty morning outside the Blue Haus, the women were taking their children to school.
Artisan weaver Salome Park, 32, is married with five children. Her eldest daughter, Rachel, 15, has started to learn the craft from her mother after school. Salome’s husband is currently setting up a nature park for tourists in Goroka, meanwhile Salome weaves whenever she can to support the family’s income. Photographed here with her daughter Louis.
ON HER ULTIMATE DREAM:
“It is my hope that my children will finish school. We are very happy that there is Bilum work, traditional skills are so important because it gives us a future where we know there is income.”