Noken: From Nature to Fashion Items From Papua


What is ‘noken’? If you are into fashion and have no clue about this, then you are surely missing out. Noken is one of Papua’s local crafts. It is not just an ordinary bag. From nature to fashion items from Papua, you will get to see why noken is something artistic and special.

All About Noken


For starters, noken does not only represent the fashion item from Papua. It represents the local wisdom of rich cultures. Back in 1969 during Pepera (Penentuan Pendapat Rakyat or The Act of Free Choice), Indonesia had chosen to vote via representatives to decide the fate of the Papuans. This voting system was called noken, where several appointed representatives voted on behalf of all adult citizens.

From nature to fashion item, noken has a philosophical value—which means turning from something old to something new. Besides, it also represents how Papuans are communal people in general.

Noken is an authentic handicraft from Papua. Noken bags consist of various, interesting colors or combinations of shades. Since the items are from organic products, these bags are also environmentally-friendly.

Noken bags were not really for an ethnic, fashion statement at first. In fact, they were more for functional purposes, like carrying chopped firewood, crops, and groceries from the market. This is why most of these bags are designed largely by size.

The creative process behind noken bags takes a while. This is why these bags may cost a high fortune. Noken bags have also won the hearts of both domestic and foreign tourists, due to their versatile and authentic design. Just take one quick look at one of these bags, and you will know it is noken.

Some Types of Noken

Types of Noken

Noken bags are made by knitting sheets after a piece of yarn. The raw materials for these bags can either be from tree fibers, Pandan leaves, barks, and grass from the swamp. Each region has their own applicable rules and raw materials in the store.

There are actually about 250 tribes in Papua that carry noken bags for their daily needs. These are examples of why the pattern for noken bags is different in some regions:

  1. The Arfak Tribe

Living in Manokwari district, West Papua, The Arfak tribe use tree fibers for their noken bags’ raw materials. They take tree twigs then clean the outer shells off. After that, they dry the twigs before they separate them from the tree trunk of the tree fibers. Some tree fiber rots are different from bark when it comes to the process of getting the yarn.

  1. The Maybrat Tribe

The Maybrat Tribe is in South Sorong. In their earlier practice, this tribe took bark in their old fields. There was once a young tree as the source of the easy tree fiber.

Processing the fiber to become a yarn also takes a while. After they take the twigs, they clean the outer shells of them. Then they dry the twigs before they break them bare-handed. This is how they cut the tree fibers off the stem. If the cutting off feels difficult, then the raw materials have to be muffled first until the tree skin can easily be removed.

The process of knitting noken bags is not just knitting. Just like all the other creative processes, knitting a noken bag involves a sense of art, cultural values, and patterns that represent Papua. This is why noken bags always look authentic and cannot be copied by anyone else. They use raw materials straight from nature before turning them into fashion items.

The philosophical values of noken include good life, peace, and prosperity for all in the lands of Papua. For Papuan women, creating noken is a symbol of her maturity. In fact, a woman may find it hard to marry her boyfriend or future husband if she still cannot craft a noken bag.

How To Carry Noken Bags In A Traditional Way

Traditional Bags

For a distance, noken bags may look like any other crafted bags. What makes them different are the patterns, the philosophical values behind the creation, and the raw materials.

However, noken bags are carried by hanging the straps on your heads. The bags are left dangling behind your bags as you walk. This way, Papuans have no problems carrying hopped firewood, crops, and groceries. At first glance, it almost looks like you are carrying a conventional backpack—but its straps are hanging on your head.

Since noken bags are so big with solid materials, they are also used to carry babies and toddlers. This applies to all Papuan mothers who have to go farming while carrying their little children with them. These bags are really multi-functional.

This is why noken has been included in the list of intangible world cultural heritage by UNESCO. Last but not least, here is another unique thing about noken bags:

Only Papuans can make them. This is the skill that has been passed down through generations in Papua. Want to purchase one for you? Why not?