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Paul Kopi: Southern Highlander promoting a Bougainvillean art form

Cross cultural contact with Bougainvilleans in the 60s & 70s spurred the growth of the art form in the highlands

bskMany years ago, Paul Kopi was taught how to make these baskets. He learnt the art when he was about 12 years old.

The knowledge and skills originally came from Bougainville.

A few of his uncles who worked as plantation laborors, learned how to weave the baskets and passed it on to their children.

“I must have been about 12 or 13 when they taught us.”

After more than 50 years, the knowledge that came from so far away has spread to much of the highlands.

According to Mr. Kopi, the Southern Highlanders also played an important role in passing on the skill to the Eastern Highlanders. One of his relatives, a teacher, introduced basket weaving in schools in Goroka.

“He taught a few people in Goroka how to make the baskets. So the knowledge came from Ialibu.”

Aside from the bilum, this has become one of the most recognizable Papua New Guinean art forms.

But the journey has not been easy. Without a steady flow of tourist, Mr. Kopi struggles to make at least K500 a month.

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