The Socio-Politics of Contemporary Bilas Use in the New Guinea Islands: Intergenerational Interpretations of 'Traditional' Customary Dress
Contemporary manifestations of ‘traditional’ customary dress (bilas) in the New Guinea Islands exist as a result of continual adaptation to social change. Reflecting this change, some younger Islanders appear flexible in their concept of what is and is not ‘authentic’ customary dress. While some older Islanders acknowledge the socio-political ways that may influence young people’s varying decisions and ideas about their use of bilas, older Islanders tend to maintain more rigid interpretations about the ‘authenticity’ of different versions of ‘traditional’ customary dress. Overall, the impact of this intergenerational difference is focused on women’s rather than men’s bodies. Further, despite the intergenerational contestation of ideas in relation to bilas, the importance of ‘traditional’ customary dress as a defining marker of ethnic identity remains steadfast across both ethnic and intergenerational ‘boundaries’. In this paper I will identify the key challenges of New Guinea Islanders today in regard to our use of ‘traditional’ bilas as part of our customary dress, and will analyze the ways that gender is used to determine concepts of ‘authenticity’.
Keywords: New Guinea Islands, Customary Dress, Gender, Authenticity, Identity
Dr. Kirsten McGavin
Affiliation not supplied