Abelam people

(Papua New Guinea  – )

Wut (looped string bag)

Other titles:
Bilum, Net bag
Not on display
Further information

Across Papua New Guinea the humble string bag, or 'bilum' in Tok Pisin, is the most common accessory of everyday life. Created using an interconnected looping technique from a single length of hand-spun plant fibre, the 'bilum' is almost always made by women. These vary in size from small tightly-looped objects used to carry amulets or ceremonial objects, to large expandable open-looped carryalls, such as this example from the Abelam people who live in the lower inland foothills of the Prince Alexander Mountains and down into the plains on the north side of the Middle Sepik River. Patterns are looped into the overall fabric construction with fibres coloured with dyes extracted from flowers, berries and other plant sources. 'Bilum' carried by women hold everything from firewood to babies. Men's 'bilum' keep ritual paraphernalia, heirlooms and items of everyday life, including pipes and tobacco.

For the Abelam speakers of Wosera the term 'wut' not only refers to string bags, which form the most important female component of bridewealth transactions. 'Wut' also denotes the womb and is the word given to the painted interior chamber of the men's ceremonial house into which young men are taken during initiation ceremonies. String is made from the bast fibre of the 'yitinbin' tree and the bags incorporate complex designs in red, black and natural fibre colour. Large 'wut' are significant features of the decorated façade of the ceremonial house during elaborate ceremonies such as marriages, when important shell rings, or 'yua', are also displayed. According to anthropologist Brigitta Hauser-Schaublin, the only other time 'wut' are used in the context of the ceremonial house is during the inauguration of the new structure, where they are used as decorations on the house façade.

Place of origin
Middle Sepik River, East Sepik Province, Papua New Guinea
Cultural origin
Abelam people
circa 1960s
Textile, Ceremonial object
looped plant fibre string, natural dyes
45.0 cm height; 54.0cm handle length; 104.0 cm width across bottom (relaxed)
Gift of Peter Sack 2016
Accession number
© Abelam people, under the endorsement of the Pacific Islands Museums Association's (PIMA) Code of Ethics