Papua New Guinea
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Weaving Runs in Family

Bilum weaving is a family trait for the Keo family.

Ruth Keo and her daughter, Rutha from Enga province had their eyes fixed on their bilum pieces while shutting out the world around them.

Ruth is a talented bilum weaver who sits infront of Trukai Industries at Konedobu, Port Moresby.

Ruth and her grandson Despa infront of Trukai Industries at Konedobu, Port Moresby.

She weaves bilums in the unbearable heat every day while taking shelter under the shade cast by her meri blouses that hang on the fence.

She is laser-focused on weaving that nothing can take away her focus.

With the first glance at her, determination and dedication would best describe Ruth’s weaving.

As I walked towards her, she finally came to a halt and held her head up to see me, with a bright smile she offered me a seat on a concrete block next to her.

The color combination was beautiful and just by looking at the handle, I assumed it was a big bilum.

She was weaving this bilum to send over to her relatives living in Australia to sell there.

When I asked how many bilums she weaves in a month and before Ruth could answer, her grandson Despa jumped up and exclaimed, “Planti stret stap long haus! (There’s plenty at home)”.

With a smile, Ruth cheerfully said she did so many that she lost count.

Ruth said she started weaving in her teens back in the village. Her mother and her aunties would come to the village, sit together and weave bilums.

This practice made it so that it was inevitable that every woman in their village would learn to weave.

“I learnt a lot of patterns from my tribe women back home and any new styles that are trending, I can weave it with just a glance at the bilum”.

Ruth said she kept weaving when she left the village and came to Port Moresby as it has become part of her.

Wherever she went, her hands still weave and there is no stopping when there’s free time on her side.

Ruth juggles her blouse selling with her bilum weaving at the same time, saying they go well together to make a productive day for her.

“Making bilums makes me forget the heat of the sun and what time it is, the only time I stop is when a customer is peeping or showing interest in buying my blouses”.

She said she always urged her daughters to make bilums and not carry other people’s handy work.

She always tells them about that happy feeling behind carrying your finished product.

Ruth usually weaves and gives it to her church for as presents, she gives it away to friends as gifts, mostly to sell and for them to carry.

Her daughter Rutha on the other hand is trying to follow in her mum’s footsteps.

Rutha weaving her first Skin Pik Bilum while selling her mum’s blouses.

Rutha who also helps her mum sell blouses on the other side was so content with her piece to get her patterns right by counting the rows on a pattern as she weaves.

For a first-timer, she did justice to the skin pik pattern.

Her weaves were tight and neat just like an experienced bilum weaver, the perfection in her weaves tells the level of determination she has.

Rutha said her mum always urged her to learn how to make bilums but she didn’t think about giving it a try until the recent “skin pik” pattern came about.

She said it was her first weave but many have shown interest in her first work and have already requested to buy the bilum from her.

Rutha said she has yet to decide whether to sell the bilum or keep it as a souvenir as her first bilum.

Rutha said she had fallen in love with weaving and aimed to weave more like her mother after this first bilum.

The Keo’s weave beautiful skin pik bilums while passing time waiting for their blouse customers, juggling sales and weaving is their weekday routine.