Looking for the Bag Man, Tell Me If You’ve Seen Him

Back in 2009 on the Tavurvur blog a word of riots went off about a french firm that had patented the name ‘bilum’ for their bag making business. Aside from the furore of an overseas company using the bilum name to sell her bags (which is a huge issue on its own), I was actually interested in the material they used in making their bags.

It turns out that to achieve the label of being eco-friendly (and obviously trying to tie in to some ethnic/roots orientated feel with the word ‘bilum’) they were making their bags from recycled canvas, advertising billboards and other hardy weather proof material. This is of course not ground breaking since it has of late become a very fashionable product for all the right greenie points, but I wondered if perhaps we could do a bit of that here in PNG?

I almost thought I had someone to help me try out the idea a couple of weeks ago. I was down at Erima Big Rooster getting lunch where I spotted a man selling bags that he had made himself. He was selling them for K10 so I grabbed one to have a closer look at his work.

He explained to me that the bag had been made out of a cushion cover and that  he had even put in waterproof material in the strap so that sweat would not ruin the material.  I thought well brilliant because I have a canvas banner from a New Years Eve party we did in the Solomons just last/this year and I have no idea about sewing or working with canvas so I was wondering if he could help me?

Unfortunately after giving him my number he never called me back. Has anyone in POM seen a man selling the below hand made bags?

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14 thoughts on “Looking for the Bag Man, Tell Me If You’ve Seen Him

  1. Emmanuel – the French company are serious.

    “All rights of trademarks, designs, texts and all other products are under BILUM sole copyright. Modifications, reproductions or any imitation or copy is forbidden. However, links towards the website are allowed without any specific authorisation.”

    http://www.bilumstore.fr/page_4,us,8,4.cfm

  2. Peter, they are serious hence my comment that it was a whole other argument. I’d blatantly abuse the patent even if it cost me money if it meant pursuing a PNG project that needed the name bulim attached to it.

    Its as stupid as a patent on ‘Cafe Latte’

  3. Good on you Emmanuel – I agree totally.

    I have written to the French company concerned am waiting for their response – which I’ll post here.

    PS Apple trademarked ‘Apple’ and ‘i’ anything. And Macdonalds have tried to trademark ‘Mac’ anything – much to the disgust of Scotsmen.

    The regulations are supposed to stop the trademarking or copyrighting of generic words or terms in common usage, but this is often flouted for commercial interest.

  4. OK. But if they got the word BILUM from PNG then tough-luck….who gives…about all the CopyRight laws and all crap. The word is Papua New Guinean and will always be. If a countryman starts a firm or product and puts the word Bilum, who says a Frenchman can get him/her on CopyRight. Had enough of these garbage. I guess it’s about time the ‘Western Watchdogs’ put in Regulations to realign their peoples.

    I’ll sure be using the word Bilum and for the French company, don’t bother because you will be dealing with the owners of the word BILUM!!

    TAIT PINIS

  5. The French company ‘bilum’ have had the courtesy to reply to my query about trademarking the word ‘bilum’ – see below. I don’t think they intend to affect anyone making or selling bilums in PNG. However if a PNG business started selling bilums in Franc it might be a different story.

    “Hello,

    Yes, I know, (about bilum being a generic term for a traditional hand woven bag in PNG) and I mentionned it on the web site (unfortunatly only in french).

    I have a lot of respect for the traidtionnel papua new guinea hand made bag, and explained that.

    Thank’s for your mail

    Hélène”

    hélène de la moureyre
    +33 (0)177 857 007 ll +33 (0)612 418 082
    Atelier, show room, bureaux : 64 rue Pasteur – 94600 Choisy Le Roi
    Siège social : 22 rue de Saussure – 75017 Paris
    matières réhabilitées l confection française ll http://www.bilum.fr

  6. Paul – I’m tempted to rock up to one of the many markets in Paris (Maybe Enfant-Rouge, Marche Buci or even Carrefour) and set up a stall selling PNG genuine bilums and call them ‘bilums’ and see what happens.

    Doesn’t this count as misappropriation of indigenous culture?

  7. I guess it just reflects a lack of any imagination in coming up with a new name for an old product. Just borrow an existing one from an exotic culture and use your financial clout to defend your position.

    The essence of this discussion aught not to be about the misappropriated name. That happens all the time.

    Why doesn’t the relevant PNG Minister remonstrate with his French Counterpart and demand the PNG right to the name and threaten to shame the French copies?

    Maybe the debate could be taken to the French media? It might even start a great overseas market for PNG bilums and put PNG on the French tourism map.

    Olsem wanem poroman Minista? Parlez vous France?

    Perhaps acting PM Abal as a previous Foreign Minister, could suggest an appropriate initiative?

  8. To their credit, the French company Bilum have replied further and said they would have no problem with anyone selling genuine PNG bilums in France and calling them ‘bilums’.

    So they do not wish to corner the market and prevent real bilums from being sold.

    However it does still seem to me to be a hijacking of an indigenous cultural icon for commercial gain.

    What do others think?

  9. In fact there may even be a business opportunity here, if any enterprising person wants to export genuine PNG bilums to Europe and let the ‘Bilum’ company handle the marketing.

    Just a thought.

    I reckon a bilum selling for K80 at Boroko market could maybe sell for the equivalent of $2-300 (AUD) in Europe. My wife has tried this in Australia and has had some success. Although people are really only interested in the ‘bus rope’ Madang style bilums, rather than the woolen ones. Consumers see them as more authentic.

  10. Hi Emmanuel. Always refreshing to get on Masalai. Im very interested in this copyright topic in relation to indigenous Pacific intellectual properties. One question: How did the French company get the word “bilum” in the first place? Did someone from there come to PNG?

  11. Hi Dee, great to hear from you again, long time indeed.

    I imagine it was an admiration of the bilum that went a little too far, but you should actually ask the lady that owns the ‘bilum’ business, she’s quiet open about answering questions on the matter.

  12. Thanks Emmanuel. I will contact her and hope to have some discussions with her.
    Keep up the good work on this great blog. I always find it interesting. Warm greetings to Papua New Guinea – love your country and diversity in your people.

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