Weaving a market from Bilum

Goroka was filled with colour as it celebrated the 10th Goroka Bilum Festival – a trade exhibition that showcases the traditional skill of weaving. For thousands of years, the art of weaving bilum has been passed down from one generation to the next. For these women, bilum has always been part of their cultural heritage, identity and way of life.

Bilum – traditionally a woven bag was used to carry babies, food or tools. In recent years, bilum has become a sought-after accessory item and the contemporary designs of bilum have expanded to include dresses and headwear.

In 2008, with the support of Pacific Trade Invest (PTI) Australia, the inaugural Goroka Bilum Festival was launched and timed to occur in the week prior to the Goroka Show – one of the world’s largest tribal gatherings. The intention of the bilum festival is to provide a platform for weavers, to reach new buyer markets leveraging the influx of visitors to the Goroka Show.

“PTI Australia has done a lot to support the bilum industry in PNG. Our main problem has always been marketing our products. PTI Australia has helped us overcome that. The Goroka Bilum Festival is one of their initiatives that has truly helped our bilum weavers.” said Florence Jaukae Kamel, festival founder and founder of the Goroka Bilum Weavers Cooperative.

“We have always struggled to find markets for our work, but with PTI Australia’s help we have found avenues to sell and a place to create new designs, while also protecting our traditional knowledge.

“Many of the weavers involved in the festival have been cast out of their villages due to losing their husband, domestic violence or HIV. The sales they’ve made here are very important and will help them to put food on the table.”

Through Florence’s vision and with PTI Australia’s support, the Goroka Bilum Festival’s profile has grown both domestically and internationally, evolving from a one-day festival into a three-day celebration of billum, including a billum show and awards. The 10th Goroka Bilum Festival showcased the creations of over 120 bilum weavers from Weak, Mt Hagen and Mt Giluwe, Chimbu, Eastern Highlands and Mandang, with a record amount of K50,700 worth of bilum sold over the three-day festival.

PTI Australia’s Trade & Investment Commissioner, Caleb Jarvis, said each year the Goroka Bilum festival goes from strength to strength; the festival providing an important platform for women entrepreneurs to trade.

“It’s been such a honour to be here at the 10th Goroka Bilum Festival and to see the impact this trade platform has for the women weavers not only of Goroka but throughout PNG who are now part of the festival.

“The incredible amount of sales that has been made over the three-day festival is a testament to Florence’s hard work and our ongoing commitment to support pathways that empower women to participate in the formal economy.” Caleb said.