Colourful, tactile and incredibly practical, noken a long, draping bag woven from dried wood fibre, worn around the neck and over the shoulders – is a distinctly recognisable and common sight in the Papua and West Papua provinces of Indonesia
While the primary purpose of noken is to carry agricultural goods, and sometimes babies, it is also a staple accessory of traditional dress for the Papua people, used in ceremonies ranging from marriage proposals to appointments of community leaders and welcoming rituals. Considered to be a symbol of fertility, good life and peace, noken is also given as a sign of friendship and as a peace offering between disputing parties.
The process of making noken starts with soaking tree branches in water for days until only wood fibre remains. Thereafter, the maker (typically a woman) dries the fibre and spins it to create a strong thread, which is sometimes coloured using natural dyes and then hand-knotted to create various patterns.
Whereas the skill of noken-making is typically passed on from generation to generation, the craft has seen increased interest in recent years as an environmentally friendly alternative to plastic shopping bags. Added in 2012 to the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage Lists as a cultural heritage of Indonesia, noken is enjoying an additional boost in popularity due to the Indonesian government teaming up with local designers to reintroduce it as a contemporary fashion trend and preserve the unique craft.