The History of Noken Day, Papua’s Cultural Heritage

Noken is made from tree bark and roots and is usually used to carry daily needs. Photo: Doc: Flickr/Bernard Agapa

The date 4 December is a special moment for the Papuan noken, the traditional knitted bag that is rich in historical significance. On that very day in 2012, the Papuan noken was named an Intangible Cultural Heritage by The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in Paris, France. Ever since then, the World Noken Day has been celebrated every year.

The noken being named as an intangible cultural heritage of Papua was in large part due to the efforts of Titus Chris Perkey, Head of the Papua Ecology Agency. Back then that he strove to get the noken nominated as a Papuan cultural heritage at UNESCO.

It was on 4 December 2012 that Titus Chris Pekey accompanied Prof. Wiendu Nuryati, Vice Minister for Culture at the Ministry of Education and Culture (2011-2014) while in Paris.

The submission of noken as an intangible cultural heritage was welcomed by UNESCO. As a result, noken followed the wayang, keris, angklung, and the saman dance as an Indonesian intangible cultural heritage named by UNESCO.

The noken is a multifunctional knitted bag from Papua, Indonesia. The traditional bag may only be made by native Papuan women.

Its making requires specific materials, and consists of wood fibre, leaves, orchid stems, and natural colouring derived from plants.

Despite its simplicity, the Papuan Noken is imbued with unique values and philosophy. This traditional item is considered a symbol of life, peace, and fertility for the Papuan people. In addition, it also holds the values of sharing, democracy, and truth.

In addition, the noken is also a symbol of maturity for women in Papua. The level of maturity of a Papuan woman is measured by her mastery of noken crafting. Those who are still unable are considered immature and not yet marriageable.

Noken are commonly used to carry everyday necessities, such as groceries, harvested items, personal belongings, school equipment, firewood. In addition, it is also used for swaddling babies.

Unlike common bags, the usage of noken can be considered unique. The women usually hang the noken from their forehead or head and drape it behind their backs. The men carry them differently, and hang them around their neck.

Adapted from Sejarah Hari “Noken Sedunia, Warisan Budaya Papua”

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