Author: Martin Soukup
Address: Institut komunikačních studií a žurnalistiky, Fakulta sociálních věd Univerzity Karlovy
Page Range: 139–160
No. of Pages: 22
Keywords: String bag, Bilum, Noken, New Guinea, Sorcery, Religious practices, Material culture, Production methods, Cultural significance, Modernization
Abstract: This paper follows up the year 1871; a milestone of hardening anthropology as scientific approach. Tylor has published Primitive Culture; Morgan was signed under the title Systems of Consanguinity and Affinity of the Human Family, Miklouho-Maclay landed on New Guinea in the same year. There is no strict connection between these crucial events. From the historical viewpoint is possible to see (1) rising of focus on diachronic perspective to understand society and culture; (2) a studying of kinship as the key how to understand the both – culture and society; (3) a necessity to perform field research in a particular society and culture.
Celý příspěvek / Full Text Paper: PDF
One of the most common items of everyday use in New Guinea is the string bag, commonly known as a bilum in Tok Pisin (pidgin English) in Papua New Guinea, or a noken in the Indonesian part of New Guinea. The Tok Pisin term bilum describes not only the string bag, but also the uterus and placenta. Similar meanings are associated with noken in Papua. The New Guinea string bag is a universal carrier. They can be used to carry the harvest from the garden, to carry children (a kind of cradle) and nowadays they are also used as shopping bags or purses. One of the oldest depictions of the inhabitants of the island of New Guinea from 1606 shows a woman carrying a child on her back by means of a string bag, which is still a common practice in New Guinea today. Generally, each individual owns more than one string bag, having bags of different sizes and types for a variety of purposes. In addition to their everyday use, string bags were also used in connection with religious cults, initiation ceremonies and sorcery. String bags were not only used for everyday purposes, they also had a place in religious cults and sorcery practices. An example of the former is the initiation tradition of the Baktaman group studied by Frederik Barth. He found, among other things, that boys who had gone through the first stage of initiation were given a specific bilum, which were their badge of having successfully mastered the first of seven levels.
Religious beliefs and cults were diverse in New Guinea before colonisation; new religious movements and religious-like activities are still increasing in New Guinea. Colonisation and the associated missionisation of the population resulted in the gradual extinction or transformation of many local religious beliefs and cults, religious customs and rituals. There were ancestral cults, male cults, cultivation cults, various initiation rites, as well as sorcery.
The belief in sorcery remains widespread throughout New Guinea. Sorcerers make special string bags in which they keep important objects used in their sorcery practices. These string bags are rare, though not uncommon, in museum and private collections. This is because sorcery was, and still is, an activity that people in New Guinea practise mostly in secret. These activities are mostly seen as anti-social and dangerous, as I will briefly discuss later. It was therefore not easy for collectors and museum curators to acquire objects associated with sorcery. It should be added, however, that people were sometimes eager to get rid of objects they feared because of their magical power.
The topic of this study is to show the significance of both bilum and noken in the religious life of the island’s inhabitants in the wider context of producing and using the string bags in general. Arguments for a possible pre-Lapita production of the string bag are proposed at the end of the study. The main aim of the study is to describe the broader context of the production, social functions and use of string bags in New Guinea using the example of the specific string bag. Description of that specific example of a sorcery bilum will open this study. The main aim of this study is to provide a description and analysis of string bags and their relationship to sorcery. The study does not provide a compact definition of sorcery in New Guinea; the main aim of the study is to show various connections of sorcery to material culture. The secondary aim of this text is to shed light on the wider context of the production, use and social functions of string bags in the New Guinea background; even in the era of global interconnectedness, the above-mentioned bags retain their solid position and social functions, but there is also a lively tendency towards “bilum fashion trends” in New Guinea, as evidenced by the existence of handbags with zippers or earrings “in bilum style”.
Sorcery string bags
Sorcery string bags are not common artefacts in museum collections, but this does not mean that they are completely absent from such collections. For example, MacKenzie gives a detailed description of a bilum from the Telefolmin area (Saundaun Province of Papua New Guinea), which is the area of her research. Her description does not include information about the parts of the bilum nor their purpose. This is common in scholarly literature, which in most cases offers a general explanation that the sorcery bilum contained substances and objects believed to have power or could have served as a means for sorcery. Sorcery bags, for example, helped to protect warriors in battle and were used to achieve success in farming and pig breeding, which was a source of prestige in a number of New Guinea communities. Objects – bones, stones or parts of plants and trees – stored or attached to the bilum facilitated this aim.
A specific example of a sorcery bilum is a specimen in a private collection from East Sepik. Eleven lower jaw bones of the common spotted cuscus marsupial (Spilocuscus maculatus), the femurs (four pieces) and the tibiae (eight pieces) of the same species were sewn on as functional decorations to a bag made of natural fibres of undetermined origin. In total, at least eleven marsupials of this species were needed for the production of this bilum. There are two more bones hanging from the bottom of the bag – one of them is a fragment. They are pig bones, the left radius and the left ulna. It is difficult to determine whether the bones are from a wild or domesticated pig. It is interesting to note that there is a small notch on the shaft of the radius, which is a trace of meat processing. An empty bamboo pipe (length 15.5 cm, diameter 1.5 cm, tobacco chamber length 2 cm) and a bamboo graft (length 16 cm) are also attached.
Inside the bag is a lower jaw bone of a New Guinea crocodile (Crocodylus novaeguineae) and a spatula from the tibia of the northern cassowary (Casuarius unappendiculatus), the distal articular section of which is adorned with the highly poisonous fruit of the rosary pea (Abrus precatorius) on the outer and inner condyles. Apart from the two bones, the bilum also contains bamboo (length 29 cm, diameter 2.4 cm) holding a sago palm leaf, which served as a stopper to protect the tobacco supply (Figure 1).
Although it was not possible to obtain all the detailed information about its functions, it is highly probably that this particular bilum served sorcery for two main purposes: hunting magic and divination. The first purpose is indicated by the animal bones, which are all undomesticated animals hunted by humans, namely the cassowary, crocodile and cuscus. The pig bones are an exception; as mentioned above, pigs can be wild or domesticated. The bamboo graft was probably used as a hairclip and a knife, but its exact function remains unknown. We can only speculate because of the lack of detailed information.
The private collector was unable to provide any further information about the object’s function. The pipe and tobacco supply in the bamboo container supports hypothesis of the bilum’s contents being used for the purpose of divination. The people of the New Guinea cultures believed that sorcerers (actually sorcerers, witches and spirits) were responsible for illness, misfortune and death, and so people sought the help of an oracle. The direction in which the tobacco smoke rose from the sorcerer’s pipe indicated the direction from which the sorcerer of the powerful spell came. The same bag has another characteristic – it is sewn together. Apart from the tobacco-filled bamboo piece and the bone knife, nothing else can be taken out, meaning that from an emic point of view, the bilum is still active. To reveal the full contents of this magical bag would mean either choosing a destructive method or using a non-destructive method of analysis, which in the case of a destructive approach would mean cutting the stapled mouth of the bag in order to examine in detail what is inside. At this point it is clear that the bag contains unknown plant material.
String bags in general served a variety of needs. We already know that it was a personal item containing private property. Access was strictly forbidden, especially to the men’s bilum or noken. Sorcery string bags had a very specific role. The contents of this type of bag were only for the eyes of the owner, as suggested by Father van Goethem. He explained that if an old man wanted to pass on his knowledge of sorcery, he would challenge his son or nephew by saying: “Come, I will show you my bag”. Certain practices of sorcery were often individualised. It was not uncommon for spells to be individually owned and performed privately, possibly in the presence of the client. Sorcery bags were and remained private property, not intended to be seen by the general public.
There are the particular reasons why the detailed information about magic string bags (or poison bags) are rather missing in scientific literature: (1) sensitivity of the topic; to be a magician or sorcerer is risky activity because one can be easily suspicious to act antisocially (with the intention to harm a community or individuals); (2) rising Christian presence on New Guinea dismantled sorcery / magic from pre-colonial state of community life in New Guinea evaluating magic and sorcery as breaking Christian values; so people practiced sorcery and magic in privacy, hiding their paraphernalia; (3) magicians and sorcerers were keeping their magic secret; they have not shared the details of their magic actions. So that is why we lack information about the magic bags. This is also why I dwell on one single magic string bag example presented above.
I interviewed several collectors and specialists in the material culture of New Guinea and asked them about the circumstances under which magic bags were acquired. It turns out that you have to look for them in the villages or in the market places (for example, at the market during the Goroka show). Owners are not always willing to sell the bags or even discuss their contents. The literature on these bags is scarce, making it difficult to draw general conclusions on the subject. Indeed, this study is based on one specific example to which the author had direct access. Discussions with collectors revealed that magical bags typically contain marsupial bones, pig bones and stone amulets.
Sorcery in New Guinea
String bags also had a specific function in sorcery practices. An important part of life in New Guinea communities was the relationship between people and spirits or supernatural powers whose favour or help people sought for a particular purpose. Although it is difficult to draw a clear line, these activities can generally be divided into three categories: sorcery, petition, and divination. It is probably more accurate to say that sorcery has clearly defined goals through individual activities, i.e. winning over spirits, making a prophecy, or performing an attack on a chosen victim, which is an example of sorcery in the narrow sense. The aims of sorcery are many and varied. According to Oliver, sorcery in all its activities could be aimed at controlling the course of events. The sorcerer tries to get in touch with spirits to ask for help or to harm an intended victim. As noted above, sorcery covers a range of activities, many of which are valued in communities – magical assistance with harvesting or hunting, weather control, divination and more. But it is also used to attack people. The terms sorcery and witchcraft cannot be loosely confused; as Marie Reay has pointed out; this loose treatment of the terms blurs the distinctions between the cultural phenomena they denote.
There is an ongoing debate in anthropology about what witchcraft and sorcery are. Edward Ewan Evans-Pritchard addressed the subject as early as the late 1930s. Sorcery focuses on indirectly influencing events through the use of magical formulae, dances, songs or symbols. People who practise sorcery usually believe that there is a spiritual force that influences their destiny and try to influence this force through magical practices. Sorcery therefore involves the use of symbols and rituals to influence circumstances and change the course of events. And this is how sorcery is understood for the purposes of this study. Witchcraft, on the other hand, is based on a belief in a mystical power that people inherit and do not need to control, and which can unwittingly cause damage to people’s health, lives and property. The debate on this topic continues in anthropology, with classic works on the subject including Marwick, Glick or Stephen.
Sorcery continues to have a significant influence on the cultures of New Guinea. It’s generally perceived as an anti-social activity that can harm a community or the individual life of an intended victim. This is because both the British and Australian colonial powers made an effort to root out sorcery in British New Guinea and the Territory of Papua, respectively; the colonial authorities did not properly distinguish between „good and bad magic“ (there are many different terms for this in the literature, such as „white and black magic“, etc.), a problem already pointed out by Fortune. Authorities from the Territory of Papua made a systematic effort to educate people in order to persuade them to abandon indigenous beliefs. The Sorcery Act 1971 criminalised sorcery and was incorporated into the Constitution of the Independent State of Papua New Guinea. The Sorcery Act 1971 remained in force until 2013 when it was repealed. Despite the Sorcery Act, the belief in witchcraft is still very strong in Papua New Guinea. There are dozens of cases of sorcerers and witches being hunted each year, and it is highly likely that the officially reported cases are just the tip of the iceberg. It is therefore not possible to interpret the objects in the collections as representing old-fashioned beliefs, but rather as expressing a living social phenomenon.
Many authors have focused on the study of sorcery in New Guinea. There are many theoretical approaches to the study of sorcery, witchcraft and magic. Some of classical ones are Frazer’s opus magnum, the theory of magic developed by Mauss, Lévi-Strauss’s study on a sorcerer or Marwick’s review of review of study of witchcraft and magic. With regard to Melanesia, there are hundreds of studies on this phenomenon, focusing on its various aspects (colonial, postcolonial, historical, social, cultural, theoretical, criminal, etc.). The aim of this study is not to provide detailed analysis of magic, sorcery, and witchcraft in specific region, its main goal is to show how particular bilum or noken fulfil their specific role via magic, sorcery, or witchcraft in Melanesia.
Sorcery included not only the recitation of spells and the performance of rituals, but also the use of various kinds of fetishes (objects whose power is revived by magic), talismans (to support the favour of good forces) and amulets (to protect the owner from evil forces). These could have been magical stones (Figure 2), such as those used by the Dani group in Papua, who called them liru.
Figure 2. Magic stones, similar to the ‚liru‘ used by the Dani group in Papua.
The magical stone was attached to a string of bast. Talismans were used by the war leader, who brought the talismans to the battleground in order to drive off enemy spirits. Wooden figurines embodying spiritual beings were also used, as we have seen in the Sepik Basin. One example is the “bird man,” who represented an ancestor and was invoked to ensure a successful hunt). Amulets in the form of figurines are also common in the Kamoro (formerly known as Mimika) culture, whose members made small standing dolls in the mbitoro style, which were to protect them against illness and misfortune. These could have also been objects decorated with stylised figures or other motifs, as in the case of talismans commonly known as marupai (from the Orokolo language), which were used in the Gulf of Papua. They were made from the coconut shells of a dwarf palm tree. The clan’s designs were engraved on the shell, accentuated by lime rubbed into the engraving. It was believed that the talismans were so powerful that only older men could handle them and use them to make prophecies or perform magic.
The example of the magic bag described above illustrates the ambivalent understanding of magic in New Guinea. On the one hand, the contents and decoration of the bag suggest that it was used for hunting magic, but on the other hand, its former owner also focused on the oracle, i.e. on uncovering the causes of misfortune, failure, illness or death, which might have been caused by an unknown sorcerer. In the latter case, the bag refers to the perception of sorcery as an antisocial phenomenon.
String bags: bilum and noken
Having started with the particular example of a sorcery string bag as a necessarily limited example of sorcery in New Guinea, it is also appropriate to contextualise the making of string bags in New Guinea communities. This section addresses three main topics: (1) pre-history of string bags manufacture in New Guinea; (2) social context of using, and function of string bag in New Guinea; (3) technology of making string bags. There are few areas in New Guinea where bags – bilum or noken – are not produced. Karl Heider studied the Dani culture in the present-day Indonesian part of the island. He called it a “string culture”. In the same publication, he distinguished between those New Guinea cultures that depend on string and those that do not. If we consider the spatial spread of the “string bag culture,” we find an interesting connection highlighted by MacKenzie. It almost coincides with the language map showing the distribution of Austronesian and Papuan languages in New Guinea and other islands in Near Oceania. The spatial distribution of the two phenomena almost overlaps. Where string bags are used, people tend to speak Papuan languages. This suggests that the production and use of bilum or noken preceded the arrival of the Lapita people to Melanesia 3500 years ago; i.e., this is a manufacturing technology developed by the human population that colonised the Melanesian islands before the Lapita people. This scenario may support the fact that traditional Taiwanese material culture was not familiar with looped bags, but rather was based on basketry. This view is also supported by the fact that the Polynesians did not produce the same type of bag as those known in New Guinea. It was, therefore, a New Guinean innovation. As already mentioned, bilum and noken were produced from various types of natural fibres, one of which was tapa.
It is thought that the knowledge of making tapa came to Melanesia with the Lapita culture. There is strong evidence that tapa was made in southern Taiwan, from where it spread to Melanesia and Polynesia, where the Lapita people are thought to have settled in Micronesia, Polynesia, and other coastal areas of Melanesia, lived. Archaeological evidence of tapa production in Taiwan is indirect, with finds of mallets dating back 5000 years. This was probably a local Taiwanese innovation. Similar evidence is also lacking from the south-eastern coast of China and mainland China.
Nevertheless, one must keep in mind that the tapa “string culture” in New Guinea did not necessarily have to be based solely on technology imported by the Lapita people to the island. It is the inner bark of only two principal species of trees that allows for tapa production, namely: Ficus tinctoria and Broussonetia papyrifera. The latter is more suitable for the production of tapa because it allows the production of very thin and smooth material. In this context, it is worth noting that the Broussonetia papyrifera tree species was imported to Oceania by humans. Studies show that there is very little genetic diversity of this tree species in Taiwan, and negligible genetic diversity of this species in the islands of Oceania, which suggests that migrant groups brought along seedsfor tree planting. The first species (Ficus tinctoria) is native to Oceania. There is also the breadfruit tree (Artocarpus), which was domesticated in New Guinea long before the Lapita people settled in Melanesia. This tree is also suitable for making bark cloth. That is why tapa could have been produced on the island before Lapita migration. This thesis is also supported by the fact that woven bags were not produced in areas inhabited by people speaking Austronesian languages, whose ancestors were probably the Lapita people. Ethnological evidence on the material culture of Taiwan suggests that the Lapita themselves did not make loop bags. Moreover, the bark of a series of trees was used for the production of string bags (e.g., the Pandanus genus), so it was not necessary to know the tapa production process for their production (Figure 3).
Figure 3. Materials such as pandanus bark used for traditional string bags, different from the Lapita culture.
But there are a variety of materials that can be used to make string bags. In Papua, for example, orchid fibres have been used to make string bags. It is unlikely that it is possible to reliably reconstruct the origin of the “string culture;” however, it is evident that with regard to the bags, Melanesian cultures may be sorted into “leaf cultures,” such as those from the Bismarck archipelago of the Austronesian area, and the aforementioned “string cultures.” For example, string bags were made and used just in the interior of New Britain, and bilums were unknown in New Ireland. Nor were bilums made in the Massim area (Trobriand Islands and other Massim islands). In New Guinea, string bags were used almost everywhere, and where they were not, they spread (e.g. to areas around Port Moresby).
MacKenzie’s study of bilum among the Telefolmin in Papua New Guinea pointed out that bilum are closely linked to the life cycle. Children sleep in bilum, bilum often characterise social status. If, for example, a young girl starts wearing a large bilum, it means that she has accepted her household duties, since bilum are used to carry the harvest from the gardens. In some areas, special types of bilum signalled menarche, i.e., that a girl has matured to reproductive status and was fit for marriage. In some cultures, bilum also marked ritual status or were insignia of the degree reached in local cults. In many New Guinean communities, if a woman was widowed, she would wear her husband’s personal bilum during the period of mourning; if a woman died, she would usually be buried with her bilum. Bilum also performed important social functions. In the Nungon community (the Saruwaged Range, Morobe province of Papua New Guinea; a bilum is called yok), where I am doing my own research, bilum are given as gifts to guests on arrival, as well as at the time of their departure. Bilum are also exchanged on significant occasions, such as peace-making, funerals, and weddings.
One of the first systematic treatises on bilum was prepared by the Catholic missionary Edward van Goethem, who worked in the Mekeo region since 1903 till 1925.  In the study, he detailed the technological process of producing the bags and materials used. He also listed the main types of bilum, a list that can be considered valid for the entire “bilum culture” of New Guinea. Women from the Mekeo region made bags to hide charms, bags to store food and firewood, bags as cradles for babies, bags for celebrations and weddings, and small personal bags. He described the latter in more detail; they were characterised by being woven with a pattern. Twenty-five different patterns were used in the Mekeo region, and each woman knew only two or three of them. Men used these bags to carry their personal belongings, usually ingredients for chewing areca nuts, tobacco or a pipe. In the case of these smaller bags, they were like a pocket, and it was considered completely unacceptable for anyone other than the owner to take anything from the bag. The author claimed that only very close friends were permitted to reach into the bilum to fetch tobacco or a nut, if the owner agreed. This has not changed – men still wear their personal bilum, in which today they also keep money and even their mobile phone. Inhabitants of PNG are flexible to development, therefore it is possible to buy a bilum for a mobile phone or a lighter. Earrings in the shape of bilum is also possible to buy at the local markets (Figure 4).
Figure 4. Modern bilum for mobile phones and lighter, plus bilum-shaped earrings.
Innovations are appearing at a fast pace. For example, bilum with a zipper similar to a lady’s handbag are currently available. There is also an evolution in the way bilum are worn, women increasingly wear them the way men do, that is, over the shoulder and not on their backs. They prefer small bilum and consider large ones to be “mum style.” Bags for special occasions have special features. They are not designed to hold things, but to be heard, for example when dancing. Therefore, a variety of materials are attached to the outside of the bag so that the bilum rattles. Snail shells, mandibles, and marsupial skulls from the cuscus or tree kangaroo were used (Figure 5). For example, Figure 5 shows a noken from the Yali cultural group from the Indonesian part of the island. The bag, made of natural fibres, has the skulls and jaws of the cuscus (Spilocuscus maculatus) and butterfly cocoon ornaments.
Figure 5. Yali noken with cuscus skulls and butterfly cocoon ornaments.
There were also other uses for string bags. Williams, for example, noted its use as a loincloth. Widows used string bags to veil themselves and they were sometimes used as a headdress – the bag was filled with leaves and then placed on the head like a hat (see Strathern and Kirk 1981). In Sepik (Papua New Guinea), both string bags and fishing nets were made using the same weaving technique and material. String bags were also part of barter systems between different cultural groups. In short, string bags have fulfilled and continue to fulfil many functions and have been a standard accessory for both men and women. String bags are also very popular in Papua New Guinea, where locals appreciate the interesting patterns. In Papua New Guinea it is not uncommon to hear “naispla bilum” (nice string bag), as words of praise.
MacKenzie estimated that it took several hundred hours of work to make a string bag. Twisting the fibre to prepare it took about sixty to eighty hours; making the bag itself took 100 to 160 hours, depending on the size of the bag. According to the findings of Paul Sillitoe, women spend about 85% of their production time to making bilum. Of course, this could lead to the misconception that they did almost nothing else, but farming, for example, is work that was, and still is, often done by women. Women tend to make bags in any suitable situation; it is not unusual to see women twisting and preparing fibres or looping bags. It is a skill that girls learn in their early youth and continue to make bilum throughout their lives (Figure 6).
Figure 6. Women making bilum bags, a skill learnt from an early age and practised throughout life.
Bilum are produced from fibres made from a variety of natural materials. Very often, these were the inner layer of the bark of some tree species such as Hibiscus tiliaceus. Bilum and noken were also made from tapa. In that case the tapa was sliced into thin tassels, which were rolled into strings used for looping bilum. The strings were also made from orchid fibres, as well as fibres from coconut pericarp. Today, women often earn a living making these bags, although new materials are being used. In the 1930s, cotton began to be imported into Papua New Guinea. Women also began to use acrylic yarn and nylon fibre from China. These materials allow them to produce a variety of colourful patterns on the bilum. Today, the women of New Guinea face “competition” from China, where bags made in Chinese shops are delivered ready-made to Papua New Guinea as the locals were saying. It is evidence of the expansion of the Chinese economy into new areas. Among other things, the strong Chinese influence is evident in a new type of “bilum” that anyone can buy at a local market. The shape is a copy of the traditional design, but the manufacturers rely on printing Asian patterns on plastic.
From a technological point of view, Papua New Guinean bilum are usually made in two ways (aside from the diversity of materials from which they are made), namely by using tight-looped or looped knotting techniques. The latter technique used tight knots. In fact, the second technique does not produce a mesh bag as we understand it; rather, it was a product that could expand to hold and carry objects, crops, or even a child. Mesh bags were made from a single fibre, as the women gradually twisted more fibres to make it wider. Secondly, when the first technique was used, the regularity of the individual loops was achieved by using measured strips of leaves – for example, from pine or coconut trees, around which the weave was guided, with the bag being mostly made from the bottom-up; that is from the bottom of the proposed product. A mesh weave was then added to the neck of the bag to strengthen the neck and allow the strap to be attached. A full weave was also used in production, as is the case with modern production based on cotton and acrylic fibres (Figure 7).
Figure 7. Mesh weave on bag neck and full weave in modern production.
Loop bags – bilum or noken – have become a widespread item in New Guinea; they are now made in places where their use was unknown in pre-colonial times. The string bag is varied and made from different materials. Local people, usually women, made them from a variety of natural fibres, most commonly the lower layers of the bark of certain trees. After the spread of the Lapita culture to Melanesia, the people of New Guinea also began to use tapa (kulit kayu in Indonesian Papua), the production of which was expanded by the Lapita people. The evidence suggests that loop bags were made on the island before the time of the Lapita migration and settlement, as loop bags are not made in Austronesian-speaking areas.
The string bag is an everyday object. People use them to carry firewood, produce, children and personal items. They are also used in rituals, public celebrations and to indicate social status. Their functions have changed over time. Bilum used during celebrations and indicating social status were characterised by special decorations. Bilum for celebrations usually had decorations and rattled during the dances. Bilum denoting social status distinguished initiated individuals from the uninitiated through special decoration. Sorcery bilum belong to a separate category. They were the private property of sorcerers who performed their sorcery with the help of objects stored in and on the bags. As such, string bags were not only objects of daily use, but also fulfilled various social, economic and religious functions.
The Sorcery Act 1971 remained in force in Papua New Guinea until 2013, but sorcery had been criminalised for almost a century. In addition, sorcery was perceived as a problem in many New Guinea communities, and people suspected of practising it were often accused, beaten and killed, so sorcery was usually practised in secret. Consequently, artefacts associated with witchcraft, such as the string bag mentioned above, are not common in collections. This type of object was generally not popular with collectors supplying museums and private collections. Moreover, information on the meaning and function of this particular type of artefact is fragmentary. The magic pouch described above refers to two approaches to magic in New Guinea. On the one hand, it is valued in communities because it can promote hunting or breeding success, as the bones of marsupials, crocodiles and pigs may indicate. On the other hand, it refers to the understanding of sorcery as an antisocial activity, represented by the pipe, which was used to perform oracles to determine the causes of misfortune, illness or death. There is a strong possibility that sorcery string bags were made recently, as sorcery itself is a common part of contemporary life in New Guinea. For these reasons, there is potential to expand our knowledge of this phenomenon in the future.
 Indonesia nominated noken for the List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding. Intergovernmental Committee listed “Noken multifunctional knotted or woven bag, handcraft of the people of Papua” in December 2012.
 BAING, Susan; VOLKER, Craig Alan. Papua New Guinea Tok Pisin English Dictionary. Oxford, Oxford University Press 2008, p. 11
 BRAUCHLER, Birgit. Modes of belonging in West Papua: Local symbolism, national politics and international cultural concepts. RIMA: Review of Indonesian and Malaysian Affairs, 2014, 48, 1: 35-66.
 HAMY, Ernest Théodore. Luis Vaës de Torres et Diego de Prado y tovar explorateurs de la nouvelle-guinée (1606-1607) étude géographique et ethnographique. Paris: Imprimerie nationale, 1907, p. 20, 23.
 MacKenzie, Maureen. Androgynous Objects. Chur, Harwood Academic Publishers 1998.
 Barth, Fredrik. Ritual and Knowledge among the Baktaman of New Guinea. New Haven: Yale University Press 1975.
 The situation is different in the Indonesian part of the island and in Papua New Guinea. In the second case, the population converted to Christianity. Christian missionaries, both Catholic and Protestant, were also active in the former Dutch New Guinea (now one of the Indonesian provinces), but the conversion rate of the population was not as significant (approximately 60 %) as in the case of Papua New Guinea (over 95 %).
 See e.g. HERDT, Gilbert (ed). Rituals of Manhood. Berkeley, University of California Press, 1982. Lawrence, Peter; Marvyn Meggitt (eds.). Gods, Ghosts and Men in Melanesia. Melbourne, Melbourne University Press, 1965.
 Zocca, Franco, Jack Urame. Sorcery, Witchcraft and Christianity in Melanesia. Goroka, The Melenesian Institute 2008.
 John Barker described his own experience gained among the Maisin people of Oro Province in Papua New Guinea. Villagers feared a drum previously owned by a deceased local “shaman.” Barker offered them a solution. He suggested to send the object to National Museum in Port Moresby. They finally agreed with his suggestion. Barker discusses this in his paper about collecting “dangerous” objects such as “charms” or materials for sorcery. In fact, many objects were intentionally destroyed by missionaries in the company of new zealots. See BARKER, John. Dangerous objects: changing indigenous perceptions of material culture in a Papua New Guinea society. Pacific Science, 2001, 55, 4: 359–375.
 The paper is based on a study of string bags pertaining to various private collections in Czechia.
 MacKenzie, Maureen. Loops of Connection: The Bilum and the Aesthetics of Well-Being. In: Friede, John; Hays, Terance; Hellmich, Christina (eds.). New Guinea Highlands: Art from the Jolika Collection. San Francisco: Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco-de Young 2017, pp. 63–80.
 Boylan, Chris. 2017. Simbu (Chimbu). In: FRIEDE, John; HAYS, Terance; HELLMICH, Christina (eds.). New Guinea Highlands: Art from the Jolika Collection. San Francisco: Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco-de Young: 311.
 The contents of the bilum, containing the lower jaw of the crocodile and a collection of cuscus bones and jaws, led me to this conclusion. Both species are found in the Sepik Basin.
 It needs collaboration with zoomorpohologists applying advanced technologies.
 The bones are from an animal aged 1 to 3.5 years. My gratitude to Dr. Lenka Kovačiková for helping to identify these bones and the details of the animals they came from.
 Dimensions are not listed.
 See e.g. Fortune, Reo. Sorcerers of Dobu London, George Routledge 1932. Lindenbaum, Shirley. Kuru Sorcery. London, Routledge 2013.
 The author of this material is preparing a laboratory elaboration.
 Van Goethem, Ed. String-bags of Mekeo Papua. Anthropos, 1912, 7, 3: 795.
 These are not the usual items that tourists seek out. Carvers, for example in the Sepik River basin, commonly adapt to tourists‘ tastes.
 Oliver, Douglas. Oceania. Honolulu, University of Hawai’i Press 1989, p. 137.
 Reay, Marie. The Magico-Religious Foundations of New Guinea Highlands Warfare. In: Stephen, Michele (ed.). Sorcerer and Witch in Melanesia. Melbourne, Melbourne University Press 1987, pp. 90–91.
 Evans-Pritchard, Edward. Witchcraft, Oracles and Magic Among the Azande. Oxford: University Press 1937.
 Marwick, Max. The Study of Witchcraft. In: Epstein, Arnold (ed.). The Craft of Social Anthropology. London: Social Science Paperbacks 1967, pp. 231–244.
 Glick, L. Sorcery and Witchcraft. In: Hogbin, Ian (ed.). Anthropology in Papua New Guinea. Melbourne: Melbourne University Press 1973, pp. 182–186.
 Stephen, Michele (ed.). Sorcerer and Witch in Melanesia. Melbourne, Melbourne University Press 1987
 See Gray, Geoffrey. Being honest to my science: Reo Fortune and JHP Murray, 1927–1930. The Australian Journal of Anthropology, 1999, 10, 1: 56–76.
 Fortune, Reo. Sorcerers of Dobu London, George Routledge 1932.
 Williams, Edgar Francis. Magic. The Papuan Villager, 1929, 1, 11: 1–2.
 AUKA; Ravunamu; GORE, Barbara; KORALYO, Pealiwan. Sorcery-and Witchcraft-Related Killings. In: FORSYTH, Miranda; EVES, Richard (eds.). Papua New Guinea: The Criminal Justice System. Talking it through: Responses to sorcery and witchcraft beliefs and practices in Melanesia. Canberra, Anu Press 2015, p. 241–254., see also Zocca, Franco; Urame, Jack. Sorcery, Witchcraft and Christianity in Melanesia. Goroka, The Melanesian Institute for Pastoral and Socio-Economic Service 2008.
 There is no space to discuss the topic in detail, but relevant information is possible to gather from a number of publications, for example, the volume edited by Forsyth and Eves. See Forsyth, Miranda; Eves, Richard (eds.). Talking it Through: Responses to Sorcery and Witchcraft Beliefs and Practices in Melanesia. Canberra, Australian National University Press 2015.
 Frazer, James George. Golden Bough. London: MacMillan 1890.
 Mauss, Marcel. A General Theory of Magic. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul 1972.
 Lévi-Strauss, Claude. Sorcerer & His Magic. In: Lévi-Strauss, Claude (ed.). Structural Anthropology. New York, Basic Books. 1963, pp. 167–185.
 Marwick, Max. The Study of Witchcraft. In: Epstein, Arnold (ed.). The Craft of Social Anthropology. London: Social Science Paperbacks 1967, pp. 231–244.
 See as for example AUKA; Ravunamu; GORE, Barbara; KORALYO, Pealiwan. Sorcery-and Witchcraft-Related Killings. In: FORSYTH, Miranda; EVES, Richard (eds.). Papua New Guinea: The Criminal Justice System. Talking it through: Responses to sorcery and witchcraft beliefs and practices in Melanesia. Canberra, Anu Press 2015, p. 241–254. Gammage, Bill. Sorcery in New Guinea, 1938 and 1988. The Journal of Pacific History, 2006, 41, 1: 87–96. KEENAN, Mela. The Western Legal Response to Sorcery in Colonial Papua New Guinea. In: Forsyth, Miranda; Eves, Richard (eds.). Talking it Through: Responses to Sorcery and Witchcraft Beliefs and Practices in Melanesia. Canberra, Australian National University Press 2015, pp. 197–212. Patterson, Mary. Sorcery and Witchcraft in Melanesia. Oceania, 1974, 45, 2: 132–160. Reithofer, Hans. Sorcery, Witchcraft, and Christianity in Papua New Guinea: A Review Essay. Anthropos, 2011, 106, 1: 196–200. Zelenietz, Marty; Lindenbaum, Shirley (eds.). Sorcery and Social Change in Melanesia. Social Analysis: The International Journal of Anthropology, 1981, 8, special Issue.
 Hampton, O. W. Culture of Stone. Austin, A & M University Press 1999.
 Fogel, Jonathan (ed.). Powerful Magic: Miniature Sculptures from the Sepik River Region. New York, Bruce Frank Primitive Art 2013.
 By the way they do not make string bags as are commonly known in New Guinea.
 Kooijman, Simon. Art, Art Objects, and Ritual in the Mimika Culture. Leiden: E. J. Brill 1984, p. 16.
 See Newton, Douglas. Art Styles of the Papuan Gulf. New York: The Museum of Primitive art 1961. Welsch, Robert; Webb, Virginia-Lee; Haraha, Sebastian. Coaxing the Spirits to Dance. Hanover, Hood Museum of Art 2006, p. 29.
 It is not the aim of the author to provide a detailed overview of the production of string bags and their social and cultural functions. It is only an outline of the issues.
 Heider, Karl. Dugum Dani. New York, Wenner-Gren Foundation 1970, p. 58.
 MacKenzie, Maureen. Androgynous Objects. Chur, Harwood Academic Publishers 1998.
 Kirch, Patrick. On the Road of the Winds. Berkeley, University of California Press 2000, pp. 88–91.
 One theory suggests that the Lapita people to arrive in New Guinea who undertook long voyages from Southeast Asia, probably from Taiwan. These voyages could have taken place along the island’s coast, with people gradually expanding into the interior.
 See e.g. Kjellgren, Eric. Oceania. New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art 2007.
 Neich, Robert; Pendegrast, Mick. Traditional Tapa textiles of the Pacific. London: Thames and Hudson 1997, p. 9. See also Larsen, Anna. Evolution of Polynesian bark cloth and factors influencing cultural change. Journal of Anthropological Archaeology, 2011, 30, 2: 116-134.
 Inhabitants of the Micronesian islands did not produce tapa. The reason is simple: the biotope of the Micronesian islands is not suitable for growing the particular species of trees.
 Kirch, Patrick. On the Road of the Winds. Berkeley, University of California Press 2000, pp. 88–91.
 See Kuo, Su-Chiu. Tapa Beaters from 5000 to 4200 BP in Taiwan. In: Wu, Chunming; Rolett, Barry Vladimir (eds). Prehistoric Maritime Cultures and Seafaring in East Asia. Singapore, Springer 2019, pp. 251–268.
 Barkcloth around the world is possible to make from several species of plant. The most common used species in the Pacific are paper mulberry (Broussonetia), breadfruit (Artocarpus), and wild fig (Ficus). See Neich, Robert; Pendegrast, Mick. Traditional Tapa textiles of the Pacific. London: Thames and Hudson 1997, p. 9.
 González-Lorca, J.; Rivera-Hutinel, A.; Moncada, X.; Lobos, S.; Seelenfreund, D. Ancient and modern introduction of Broussonetia papyrifera ([L.] Vent.; Moraceae) into the Pacific: genetic, geographical and historical evidence. New Zealand Journal of Botany, 2015, 53, 2: 75–89.
 This is believed to be due to the high cultural importance of tapa It was often given as a gift in many Polynesian cultures. There is no reason to assume that seeds for planning trees with the aim of producing tapa would be transported to distant islands without tapa being of great cultural significance.
 Denham, T., Haberle, Simon; Lentfer, Carol. New Evidence and Revised Interpretations of Early Agriculture in Highland New Guinea. Antiquity, 2004, 78, 302: 839–857.
 MacKenzie, Maureen. Loops of Connection: The Bilum and the Aesthetics of Well-Being. In: Friede, John; Hays, Terance; Hellmich, Christina (eds.). New Guinea Highlands: Art from the Jolika Collection. San Francisco: Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco-de Young 2017, p. 63.
 MacKenzie, Maureen. Androgynous Objects. Chur, Harwood Academic Publishers 1998, 14–17.
 Mückler, Hermann. Mission in Ozeanie. Wienna, Facultas Verlags – nad Buchhandlungs 2010, p 269.
 Mückler, Hermann. Mission in Ozeanie. Wienna, Facultas Verlags – nad Buchhandlungs 2010, p 269.
 Van Goethem, Ed. String-bags of Mekeo Papua. Anthropos, 1912, 7, 3: 792–795.
 Young, Michael; Clark, Julia. An Anthropologist in Papua. Honolulu, University of Hawai’i Press 2001, p. 276.
 Seligman, Charles. The Melanesians of British New Guinea. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press 1910, plate XXV.
 See Strathern, Andrew; Kirk, Malcolm. Man As Art. San Francisco, Chronicle Books. 1981.
 It should be noted that some natural fibres shrink after soaking and subsequently drying. Fish traps are used for fishing in Sepik. MacKenzie, Maureen. Androgynous Objects. Chur, Harwood Academic Publishers 1998.
 MacKenzie, Maureen. Androgynous Objects. Chur, Harwood Academic Publishers 1998.
 Sillitoe, Paul. Made in Niuigini. London, The Trustees of the British Museum 2017.
 Author observed it in the field many times.
 Author has no information if the China manufacturers see a reference to magic usage of bilums.
 Bodrogi, Tibor. Art in Northeast New Guinea. Budapest, Hungarian Academy of Sciences 1961, p. 145.
ANDERSEN, Barbara. Style and self‐making: String bag production in the Papua New Guinea Highlands. Anthropology Today, 2015, 31.5: 16-20. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1111/1467-8322.12200
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