Bilum weavers house launched

Launched in late 2014, Among Equals is a social enterprise, aimed at empowering femal bilum weavers in the highlands of PNG and to help support the artisan skills of bilum weaving to be relevant for future generations.

PTI’s Caleb Jarvis, Caroline Sherman and Florence Jaukae Kamel in Goroka.

The founder of Among Equals, Caroline Sherman, was in Goroka, Eastern Highlands Province, recently to see and celebrate the laying down of the foundation for a Bilum House for the Bilum Weavers of Goroka. The Bilum House will be a safe space where the women can come together, to weave and share ideas.

Caleb Jarvis, Trade and Investment commissioner of Pacific Trade Invest Australia, led the delegation to Goroka. PTI Australia’s creative industries programme has played a pivotal and ongoing role in connecting Caroline Sherman and Among Equals with the bilum weaving communities in Papua New Guinea.

Caroline Sherman saw her first bilum at PTI Australia’s Maketi Ples in 2014 and was inspired by what she described as “its beauty, colours and physical strength.” Wanting to understand the history and technique behind bilum, Caroline Sherman sought PTI Australia’s help to visit bilum weaving communities in PNG.

PTI Australia invited Mrs Sherman to attend the Goroka Bilum Festival, where she met weaver Florence Jaukae Kamel and female artisans from the Goroka Bilum Weavers Co-operative.

“Through my research and my journeys to Papua New Guinea, I found a community of women, weaving, caring, storytelling and living through the making of bilum bags,” Mrs Sherman said.

“This inspired me to work with these talented women of PNG and bring my skills and 20 years’ experience as a fashion and textile designer in London, New York and Sydney to create a bag with a contemporary twist that still retains a deep cultural significance” she said.

And so the vision for Among Equals was born. But in many ways, it was a dream much easier said than done. After being guided by PTI Australia through the early stages of establishing her supply chain for Among Equals, Caroline now works directly with artisan communities in PNG including the Goroka Bilum Weavers Co-operative, Hagen Handicrafts Group and Giluwe artisans.

Working with these artisans, Among Equals seeks to combine the skills of bilum weaving, which has been handed down through generations of Papua New Guinean women, with contemporary aesthetics to create high-end bags sold through exclusive fashion boutiques internationally.

As a social enterprise, Among Equals aims to enhance what its artisans do best while helping to improve the economic and social situation of the women that they are working with.

“The worlds of these women are complex, often violent and insecure. Through an ongoing relationship with these communities, my aim is to provide them with sustainable incomes and to help ensure bilum remains a viable art form for future generations,

“What we are building in Goroka is more than just a structure. I’ve been building this to show my commitment to the female weavers. We are building a space for the community. A safe place to weave, learn and share.”

Among Equals currently supports over 50 bilum artists in three artisan communities in Goroka, Mt Hagen and Ialibu.

“We are so thankful to Caroline for showing her support to us through the building of this house. It means a lot to our community to have a space we can call our own,” Ms Florence Jaukae Kamel said.

“By working with Among Equals, the money that flows from international sales to the Goroka Bilum weavers has enabled the women to pay for all the little girls to attend school. Their 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,” Ms Kamel said.

For more information, please contact Caleb Jarvis, PTI Australia Trade and Investment Commissioner at caleb@pacifictradeinvest.com

Story courtesy: The Papua New Guinea Post Courier; Picture: PTI Australia

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