Noken, The Near Extinction Heritage

January 28, 2013

Noken for carrying food crops
Photo from, courtesy of Shinji Kawai.

Noken, a traditional handmade bag by the people in Papua and West Papua, Indonesia, is near its extinction. More than 200 tribes in Papua Island have been using noken to carry many things. Different from an ordinary bag, the tribes people of Papua use their forehead to carry noken.

Just like Mbaru Niang of Flores, which already received the UNESCO's Award of Excellence, in Bangkok, on August 27, 2012. Noken has officially recognised by the UNESCO in the Intangible Cultural Heritage list, which needs an urgent safeguarding, in Paris, on December 4, 2012.

Titus Pekei wears an orchid noken
Photo from Arjuna/Jubi.

Titus Pekei, the Chairman of the Papua Institute of Ecology, is the man who concerns about the near extinction of noken. The idea to list noken to UNESCO was started in 2008, after Batik and Keris was recognised by the UNESCO as Indonesia national heritage. After the Ministry of Culture and Tourism agreed to his idea, in February 2011, Titus began his research.

Titus felt sad to see many factory-made noken which were sold from IDR 55,000 to IDR 200,000. While the price of original handmade noken could cost between IDR 500,000 to IDR one million. The original noken is expensive because it needs a long time to finish making a noken.

Noken is made from knotted wood fibre. The finest material is from Melinjo (Gnetum gnemon) wood fibre. While the orchid noken, or gold noken is made from yellow or brown color toya orchid.

In Paniai district, Titus with his team from Ministry of Culture and Tourism, found 50 women of noken artists, and 20 men who mastered of making orchid noken. What boasts more, there is a school that includes noken craft making as one of local curriculum, said Titus.

Titus Pekei hard work was finally paid off after the noken proposal was accepted by the UNESCO Committee. But, this is only the beginning, the problem in saving the noken heritage lies on its marketing. The people of Papua and West Papua cannot grow the market outside their home. So, the Indonesian Government should pay more intention to save this near extinction heritage.


Titus Pekei, Penggagas Pengusulan Noken Papua hingga Diakui UNESCO
Jawa Pos, Headline, January 26, 2013.

UNESCO Culture Sector - Intangible Heritage
Noken multifunctional knotted or woven bag, handcraft of the people of Papua

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