Netbag (bilum)



A rectangular string bag with integral handle. Dyed fibres give an overall design of rectangles in dark brown, red, yellow and natural colours. 'Bilums' (netbags) are usually made by women for women in New Guinea. They come in different sizes, the larger ones to carry a wide variety of things including food and babies. They can be sold or traded, but often women give them to female friends as gifts. This large, everyday type is closely associated with women’s work and women’s bodies, and specifically the womb. They are also items of clothing worn by both women and men, and can show their status or express regional or tribal identity. In some parts of New Guinea, bilums are important valuables. For example they may be exchanged formally as part of a woman’s bridewealth payment. They are a good example of wealth created by women for exchange within existing systems, and increasingly also a way that women can enter into a cash economy.