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A Tapestry of Strength: Papuan Women, Nokens, and the Legacy of Inclusion

In the spirit of #InspireInclusion, we invite you to explore the lives of women in the far eastern region of Indonesia, specifically the Papua area. Dark-skinned, with curly hair and big smiles, these women embody strength, kindness, and hard work as they support their husbands and/or parents, striving to make ends meet for their families. This narrative mirrors the experiences of women in big cities, developed countries, and other remote places around the world.

Let us introduce you to a heritage passed down through generations – noken – a unique bag crafted from woven wood, tree fiber, or leaves processed into sturdy threads. This traditional craft places Papuan women on the global map.

Many women’s groups in Papua have formed small corporations to create nokens, which are later sold to both locals and tourists. The income generated from selling nokens contributes to various aspects of household finances, such as children’s education, healthcare, and infrastructure development.

GHG Actions - Noken Papua

Mulia, Papua, Indonesia – December 2, 2014: portrait of local residents using noken. Noken is a traditional bag from Papua.

In the context of globalization, nokens and Papuan women exemplify how local wisdom and gender equality can play a vital role in supporting sustainable development. The noken bag, with its beauty and significance, not only adorns the shoulders of Papuan women but also serves as a bridge between a rich heritage and a hopeful future.

The motifs on the noken often reflect cultural values, daily life, or the surrounding nature. This traditional bag is not merely an item, but a narrative of life and history passed down from generation to generation. Surprisingly, only native Papuan women possess the skill to create this unique bag. From childhood, Papuan girls learn the art of weaving nokens, with the belief that mastering this skill makes them good wives and capable family managers. In fact, a woman may not marry until she has mastered the art of creating nokens.

For men, nokens serve as carriers for cigarettes, areca nuts, and matches. Males use smaller-sized nokens, while females use larger ones, employing them to carry babies, produce, or heavy items. Uniquely, Papuan women carry produce or other heavy items not on their shoulders but on their heads.

Noken is a picture of women’s inclusivity in remote areas. This traditional bag was recognized as a world heritage by UNESCO on December 4, 2012. The profound local wisdom encapsulated in the noken, its role in empowering women to contribute to household finances, and its ability to draw the world’s attention to Papua all underscore the #InspireInclusion message that Women’s International Day carries.

Kesya, 20 y/o, student of Agricultural Business, University of Papua.

Happy International Women’s Day!

GHG Actions
GHG Actions
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