Mama Liz finds niche in bilum market


MOTHER-of-four Elizabeth John uses the traditional skills she acquired in the village to earn a living from making bilum. Not just any kind of billum, but the Bird of Paradise brand which only women of Central Goroka in Eastern Highlands such as her specialise in.
“Central Goroka is a district in Eastern Highlands and we are known because of our Bird of Paradise bilum that we sell at the Bird of Paradise Hotel in Goroka. When tourists arrive in town, they head for the hotel to buy the bilum.”
Elizabeth, 50, is married to Wanpis John, 54, also from Eastern Highlands. He collects and sells waste metals.
They have three sons who help their father in his informal business, and a daughter who works as a shop assistant in Port Moresby.
Elizabeth sells the bilum she makes at an impromptu market in Gordon, using the knitting talent she had learned back home in Goroka.
“Knitting bilum is part of our culture and it is an everyday job to all the mothers in Goroka. At first when I came to Port Moresby, I lost interest in knitting bilum. It just died out. I did not have that interest anymore.
“But after realising that life in the city was hard, I made up my mind to bring back the spirit of knitting billum. Today I am happy that I have toea in my pocket to feed my family and make good use of the skills in some ways.”

“ Knitting (the Bird of Paradise) bilum is part of our culture. It is an everyday job for all mothers in Goroka.”

Elizabeth travels daily from the Buswara settlement at Nine-Mile in Port Moresby to a spot near a supermarket in Boroko to sell the bilum she makes, and the meri blouses she sews.
The billum prices range from K150 to K200. It all depends on the colour used, design and pattern.
“The bigger ones I sell for K200 and the small ones for K150. The blouses I sell for K50 each.
“I have a lot of customers, many of them are big-shots. They really like the way I display the items here. So when they need a blouse or bilum, they always think of Mama Elizabeth at Boroko.”
Elizabeth believes that women and girls must learn their traditional handcraft and art skills to earn a living from.
“Women, young mothers and girls must create opportunities for themselves.”
The income she earns supports her family.
“We have to buy everything like soap, sugar, salt, cooking oil, tin fish and rice. They all cost money. So my little market helps me meet my family needs.”
She thanks her husband Wanpis for always coming up with new ideas to make money to support their family.
Elizabeth believes that it all comes down at the end of the day to being innovative, hardworking and determined.
“I do have children and grandchildren at home. So sitting here (and waiting for customers) is not a waste of time. At least I have something to take back home to my family at the end of the day.”
Indeed a timely advice from Mama Elizabeth for unemployed young people in the city.