Noken, a Bag Carried by Head

Noken is a fashion in Papua

Noken is a fashion in Papua

Local people calls it noken. This is Papuan traditional bag. It has same function as common bag: to bring stuffs. But, noken has unique shape and unique way to wear. Not hung on shoulder or arm as usual bag, noken should be hung on the head.

First time I heard about this, I could not imagine how hard to bring stuffs by the head. But in fact, more than 250 tribes in Papua wear noken in their daily life. The big noken are to carry firewoods, harvest produces, even a child. While the smaller noken are used to bring the light stuffs such as books, bottle, wallet, etc. Don’t worry, it’s strong enough.

Noken is able to bring the heavy stuffs because it’s made from the fine quality of Manduam wood, Nawa wood, or forest orchid. Those woods are processed, dried, then twined into yarn. Color variation is made from natural dye.

How to make a noken? Don’t ask, I know nothing about that. All I know is, in region Sauwadarek, you can watch the producing process of noken directly.

Usually, noken is crafted by the mamas (Papuan mothers). Furthermore, only the genuine Papuan women may make it. Years ago, the craftsmanship of noken symbolized the passage of matureness. It was also a condition of the marriage, so like it or not, the girls would learn how to make a noken.

It was years ago. Unfortunately, modernity changes everything. Most Papuan women now aren’t too interested to preserve the skill of noken making. Whereas, for some tribes in Papua, noken is not merely a bag. It represents a neat, peaceful and fertile life. While for us, non-Papuans, this knitting bag is a must bought when traveling to Papua souvenir because of its unique shape and way to wear.

Since December 4th, 2012, UNESCO has officially decided noken as one of non-material World Culture Heritage. So, only by IDR 25,000 to IDR 50,000, you can have this UNESCO-recognized bag.

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