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Queensland Museum

Papua New Guinea Collection

Bilum Tapa Kundu Rattle Kapkap Shell money
Bilum

Bilum

A bilum is a type of bag from Papua New Guinea. Bilums are made to be very strong and flexible, and can expand to many times their size, depending on what the bilum is holding.

Object description

This bilum is from Goroka, in the Eastern Highlands Province of Papua New Guinea. It is made from ‘bush rope’, twisted together in a series of loops. 

History

Bilums are very popular for everyday use in Papua New Guinea. Some bilums are made of ‘bush rope’ and cuscus fur. (A cuscus is a marsupial, and looks similar to a possum.) Other bilums are made of wool and feature brightly coloured designs and patterns. Some women carry their bilum with the strap across their forehead and the bag slung down their back. This method keeps their back straight and their hands free to do other things. Some people use their bilum to hold babies, with the bag hung from a tree branch, swinging in the breeze. Bilums make good beds for babies.  

Tapa

Tapa

This tapa cloth is made from the inner bark of a tree. Tapa is the name used in Papua New Guinea to refer to bark cloth. Bark cloth is made throughout the Pacific region and has many different names.

Object description

This tapa is from Domara Village in Oro Province, Papua New Guinea. It is rectangular in shape and features red and black geometric designs.

History

Tapa can be made from the inner bark of paper mulberry trees or breadfruit trees. The inner bark is dried, soaked and beaten, and then painted with designs and decorations. Sometimes, special glue made from tapioca or sweet potato starch is used to make bigger pieces of cloth. Tapa cloths are used for special ceremonies and are given as gifts and/or worn at weddings and other events like graduations. Oro Province in Papua New Guinea is famous for its tapa and the women often wear ones like this while singing and dancing at traditional ‘singsings’. (A singsing is a special gathering where people perform traditional dances and songs.)

Kundu

Kundu

Kundu drums are shaped like hourglasses. Sometimes, kundus are decorated with seeds that rattle when the drum is moved.

Object description

These kundu drums were collected from Morobe Province in Papua New Guinea. They are carved from wood and have lizard skin stretched across the top. The drum on the left features a cowrie shell design. The drum on the right has additional carved motifs.

History

Kundus are used throughout Papua New Guinea, both on special occasions and for whenever people want to hear the beat. Some kundus have handles, and some do not. The handles are used to hold the drum in one hand so the other hand can be used to hit the lizard skin on top and produce the sound. All kundus feature different designs. 

Rattle

Rattle

This rattle is made of leaves, seeds and coconut shell. It is tied around a dancer’s ankle and makes a sound when the dancer moves.

Object description

This dance rattle is from East Sepik Province in Papua New Guinea. It is about 20 centimetres long and 18 centimetres wide. It was collected in 1982. It is made from 30 seed pods, tied together with a special string made from plant fibre. The cords on this rattle are held together with a piece of coconut shell.

History

A rattle is a type of musical instrument known as an idiophone. This means it makes its sound by being shaken and jiggled. Sometimes, rattles like these form part of traditional dress, and are tied to the ankles of people who are dancing in traditional ‘singsings’. (A singsing is a special gathering where people perform traditional dances and songs.)

Kapkap

Kapkap

Kapkaps are made from clam shell and turtle shell. They are like ornaments that can be worn as a pendant around the neck, or on a headband on the forehead or side of the head.

Object description

This kapkap is from New Ireland Province in Papua New Guinea. It is made from a section of clam shell that has been ground down to form a flat disc. An intricate design has been carved out of turtle shell and affixed to the clam shell disc.    

History

Kapkaps are only worn on special occasions, like weddings, feasts and funerals. Only people who have earned the right to be called ‘maimais’, can wear kapkaps. A maimai is a family or clan leader, and they know a lot about traditional culture and customs. In New Ireland, only men can become maimais. The type of designs on a kapkap can show people what ranking, or type of knowledge the maimai has. When the maimai learns new knowledge, or earns the right to speak for another family or clan, a new kapkap is made for him. It can take months to make a new kapkap.

Shell money

Shell money

This is shell money, used in some islands of Papua New Guinea. Shell money like this is called diwara, tambu or tabu. Sometimes, people wear shell money as necklaces or earrings.

Object description

This shell money is from the Duke of York Islands in East New Britain Province, Papua New Guinea. It is called diwara. It features a series of Nassarius shells, threaded on to pieces of cane. The back of the shell has been removed so it can be easily threaded onto the cane. Each shell is about 9mm long. The cane has been cut to various lengths to indicate different values.

History

Each place in Papua New Guinea has a different type of traditional money, usually made of different types of shells. Today, shell money is most often exchanged on special occasions, like weddings or funerals. In East New Britain, shell money is also used at markets to buy fresh food. Depending on what is being paid for, people may use bank currency as well as shell money.