Papua New Guinea
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Last bilum gifted to me by my grandmother

Grandmothers from Iyanguri village, Kagua-Erave district of Southern Highlands province usually weave bilums in their roundhouses when their gardening days are closing in.

Late ‘Aiyeh’ Kemeameh Sikaka, (‘Aiyeh ‘ means grandmother in the Iyanguri language) who is also known as Bubu Kemex by her grandchildren was one of the few elderly women who loved weaving tulip bilums.

Bubu Kemex was in her early 90s when she passed on in April 2021, in her small hut, which was located on a hill in the village.

She had lost her husband many years back and she spent most of her life with her three children, a son and two daughters.

Her son works out of the province and only visits her with his family during the festive period, while her daughters got married and lived with their spouses in their villages way up the mountain.

Bubu Kemex has grown out of her garden age where she found most of her time around the house doing little gardens and investing the rest of her time weaving bilums beside her fireplace in her hut.

Bubu Kemex would sit on the hilltop and set her eyes fixed on the bush tracks waiting on her family as her hands tangled with tulip rope, twirling in a slow moderate speed, weaving.

Her granddaughter Robina Hapo said her grandmother has always loved weaving and that was what kept her going at such an old age.

Ms Hapo said during the year her grandma would weave them bilums, she would put theirs aside whilst anticipating Christmas to come quickly.

Bilum weaving was her thing and she enjoyed weaving, Even when her eyes could no longer allow her to put the rope through a needle, she kept weaving with the help of her family.

She handcrafted the rope for weaving bilums through the natural fibre from the Tulip trees using the traditional methods when she sees that she’s running out of ropes to weave.

The patterns of the bilum she weaves are out of her creative mind where she decides the size of the bilum long before she starts to weave.

Bubu Kemex always believed in the traditional mode of communication, where she looked after a bird whom she called “Friend”.

The bird usually dances around the hut and sing “wisiripo, wisiripo” meaning the visitors are coming.

She would walk out of her hut with the bilum in her hand in anticipation for anyone to arrive. She always has a new bilum to gift anyone new visiting her hut as a sign of welcome and appreciation.

The month of December are more exciting for her as she always got prepared to welcome her grandchildren who are coming for holidays.

Ms Hapo said she was always her grandma’s favourite grandchild as she always gifted her bilums when she visited the village.

Robina Hapo and Bubu Kemex in her small hut in the village.

In 2018, the family made a last visit to their dear grandmother when Robina was doing her second year at the University of Papua New Guinea.

Ms Hapo said when Bubu Kemex heard that they will be visiting her to hold her last farewell ceremony, she quickly weaved her last bilum with whatever strength she had left and gifted it to her.

Bubu Kemex gifted her with a beautiful Tulip bilum (Nu) during her farewell ceremony.

“I knew she did this bilum with her last strength and I always treasure it and take it everywhere I go”.

Robina said it was a sad moment where you got to receive a gift from someone knowing this will be the last gift you receive from them.

She said Bubu Kemex stopped from 2019 onwards till she passed as she could not move her hands like she used-to.