Wednesday, February 11, 2009

French firm poaches and patents PNG's 'Bilum'

A French firm has poached and patented the Papua New Guinea bilum, causing a stir on the internet among Papua New Guineans.

The issue was first highlighted by Papua New Guinea blogger Tumbuans & Dukduks on his site, provoking an outrage among Papua New Guineans about the iconic bilum, which has been developed through centuries of trial and error.

One outraged reader went as far as calling on the National Cultural Commission to begin intellectual property registration of PNG names.

 “Yes, it’s true,” Tumbuans and Dukduks wrote.

“And the name of this particular French firm - well, have a guess!

“The firm has decided to call itself Bilum and you can find their website here,

Bilum - the French firm - makes bags and accessories using recycled advertising banners.

“Every one is unique, because the material comes from the giant advertising hoardings that you are found on buildings undergoing work, department stores, and on the outskirts of large cities.

“The French brand – yes, it is now a ‘French brand’ - uses recycled car seatbelts as handles and straps for its designs.

“The most ironic thing about this French firm is that it labels its’ creations as ‘eco-ethical fashion’ and it even entered the 2008 Ethical Fashion Show.

“I can accept the ‘eco. and the ‘fashion’ - but how in the world can it be termed ‘ethical’ when its commercial brand is a poached national cultural-identity unique to Papua New Guinea?”

The Treehugger website wrote an article on this URL  highlighting Bilum’s bags on the Paris shopping scene and a couple of Papua New Guinean friends and expatriates have already voiced their concerns.

The following is a comment from Rick Brittain, a Cairns’ expatriate who works in PNG:

“My original concern was that the name ‘bilum’ has basically been monopolised now, internationally, and has been removed from its PNG roots.

“I actually met with Helene (owner of Bilum) earlier this year, and found out that the company she operates is a predominently non-profit, recycling centre, using people with special needs to manufacture her bilums.

“Good luck to her, and I have no problem with that, and she is a genuine lady with genuine concerns for our planet.

“I donated a couple of PNG bilums for her use, and she reciprocated with her bilums, which are certainly unique…but not genuine bilums as anyone who has spent time in PNG will tell you.

“You cannot mimic culture…it’s developed through centuries of trial and error”.

The author of Tubuans & Dukduks said he had somehow managed to keep his emotions under control for the duration of the penning of this post.

“But I will say say this: Paia bilong mi em i dai nating (my flame has gone dead),” he added.

“I will be sending Bilum - the French firm -  an email detailing my deep concern about the blatant poaching and patenting of PNG’s name and product - bilum.

“So too can you.

“Here is their email address:”


1 comment:

  1. Anonymous2:00 AM

    Has there been any legal action taken against this French company?