The Wayuu Tribe
Wayuu (also Wayu, Wayúu, Guajiro, Wahiro) is an Indigenous American ethnic group of the Guajira Peninsula in northernmost part of Colombia and northwest Venezuela. The Wayuu language, called wayuunaiki, is part of the Arawak language family predominant in different parts of the Caribbean. There are small differences in dialect within the region of La Guajira: the northern, central or southern zones. Most of the younger generation speak Spanish fluently but understand the importance of preserving their traditional language.
The importance of the mochila
Wayuu women learn how to weave at a very early age. The Wayuu are descendants of the Caribs and Arawak peoples, largely known for their strong weaving tradition. The Wayuu carry on this traditional weaving.
It is said the Wayuu learned to weave thanks to a mythical spider called Walekeru. This spider would create magical pieces using thread from her mouth. She is the one that taught all Wayuu women to crochet, crocheting hammocks to sleep in, belts for men, shoes, bracelets and Wayuu bags of all different sizes and crochet methods to be used for different purposes. Today, the skill of crocheting has become the main source of income for the Wayuu community.
Weaving and crocheting make up a large part of their daily life, especially for women. Most of the women presently weave or will do it at some point through their lives. The men participate in the industry as well; they make the straps, provide the materials, and transport the goods to the city centers. The tribe produces millions of high-quality artisan products every year. This artisan weaving industry plays a vital role in the local economy, and the people are known most for the mochila Wayuu or Wayuu Bag.
Today, Wayuu bags are the most exported handicraft in all of Colombia.
The creation and meaning of each bag is a tradition that has been passed through many generations in the Wayuu community. The symbolism behind their crocheted patterns and forms along with the intentions of each artisan while marking each bag make these mochilas a wearable work of art.
Often times the colors and patterns used are so vivid and cheerful with an intention to "forget" about the lack of water and resources, the drought and vulnerability of the land in which they live.
Traditional mochilas we made of 100%cotton thread, but since the commercialization and exportation of the bags the Wayuu now use acrylic fiber thread which is more durable and allows for brighter colors.
Young girls start to crochet simpler pieces from a very early age, but she will finally learn all techniques once she becomes a "woman" in a rite of passage ceremony,
A mochila is crochet by a single woman for around 14 to 28 days depending on the technique used. There is the 1 hilo or "thread" technique that takes longer with a lighter finish and less material used. The 2 hilo technique, on the other hand, is what is mostly used nowadays taking less time, more material needed and a heavier bag.
Struggles of the Wayuu Community
There is a crisis happening in Colombia. An ethnic group, the Wayuu community, dying of thirst and hunger at the desert of La Guajira due to a struggle to access safe and sufficient water for drinking and irrigating. Corruption, mining and a dam are to blame. Socio political struggles have been putting this community to the edge between live and death. Thousands of children have died over the last decade due to malnutrition and lack of access to basic medical help. The Wayuu have become nothing more but people forgotten on the dust of economic and geographic marginalization.