The bilum (there are, no doubt, seven hundred different words for it in the languages of the country) is part of the persona of New Guinean women.1 She makes it herself, knotting the mesh with skilful fingers. The handles are long enough to fit across the top of her forehead. When empty, the bilum covers the shoulders like a half-cape; full, the mesh stretched to the limit with firewood or sweet potatoes, it can carry thirty or more kilograms. It is a treasured personal item — an infant’s cradle, a shopping basket, and a delivery van propelled by womanpower, head bent, shoulders bowed under its weight.
Cochrane, Susan, Bilong Ol Meri (For All Women): The New Guinea Bilum, Kunapipi, 27(2), 2005.