Noken, the National Treasure of Papua

Papua is located in the eastern part of Indonesia and has a lot of uniqueness. From their well maintained natural conditions, their authenticity, ethnic diversity, cultural wealth, and also their traditions.

One of their heritage is a unique hand knitted bag called Noken. The materials being used in Noken manufacture is mostly tree roots or tree barks. Then, the Mamas (the nickname for Papuans women) will knit the fibers in to a bag form. Noken’s uniqueness does not stop there; the most unique character of the Noken is its way of using it. Noken is not draped over the shoulder or being carried by hand, but it’s being draped on the head.


Noken bag
Papuan women carrying Noken bag draped on their head via


Papuan Noken is not only used by women but also by men, teens, older people and children. The content of Noken varies, depending on the wearer. If used by children, it usually contains books or toys. If used by a man, it can be used to carry crops. If it’s used by women, Papuan Noken can carry a baby, because Mamas usually hold their baby with Noken.

Even though, Noken is one of the most requested and purchased crafts by foreign and local tourists when visiting Papua, the Papuans don’t see Noken as a regular object. Papuan Noken has many philosophies for the Papuans, one of them is as a symbol of fertility. The symbolism is represented from the way Noken can accommodate many objects and how it resembles the female’s womb which contains a baby. Generally, the Noken making skills has become a benchmark that a girl is ready to be proposed by a man. Noken’s other philosophy is harmony with nature that can be seen from the raw materials, manufacturing and coloring process which is still made in a natural way.

To preserve Noken, government and the Papuan people proposed Noken as “intangible cultural heritage” to UNESCO. After a long process, for more than two years, finally in December 4th, 2012, Noken has been acknowledged by UNESCO as an “intangible cultural heritage”. This international acknowledgement indicates that Noken is one of the Papuan cultural identity that needs to be preserved, hence it can be seen by the next generations. It also shows the richness and diversity of the Papuan culture, that needs to be promoted, whether in Indonesia and also abroad.

Other Papuan’s national treasure that considered as a world class is Papuan Coffee.  It is famous both in Indonesia and abroad as it is organic and valuable which need to be preserved and promoted to the world.


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