In Colombia, there are 80 ethnic groups, 64 languages and more than 300 dialectal forms. The indigenous population of Colombia is made up of 701,860 people, which represents 1.75% of the country’s total population.
Crafts are an integral part of the country’s history. The artisanal products made by the indigenous are nowadays a source of important income for the communities but also a way of preserving their way of life. They use a large amount of natural materials such as clay, bamboo, leather, fibers, agave, wool, wood, tagua, gourd, precious metals, etc. They also use a large number of colors to spin fibers and interweave threads into excellent quality items.
In this article we have selected the 6 key fashion items made by the indigenous in the country.
The Wayuu people, the largest indigenous community in Colombia, are Amerindian people who live between Colombia and Venezuela in the desert of La Guajira, a dry and arid peninsula.
They make a living mainly by breeding and weaving mochila bags as well as hammocks called chinchorros. Textile is their canvas of expression. There is a symbolism that is expressed not only by their weavings, but also by designs and colors that women paint on their faces.
According to the Wayuus, everything on earth is connected and has a soul. Nature is particularly important to them and they believe in “Mother Earth”.
The mochila bag is entirely hand-woven by the Wayuu women. More than a fashion item, it represents a whole culture. It is called susu and translates to “daily use”. There is a wide variety of mochilas, and the different patterns drawn on the bags represent the dreams of these women and their unique ways of seeing the world..
The simplest bags take 3 to 4 days to make, and the most complicated can take up to 2 weeks. This depends on the complexity of the patterns and the number of colors used. They are realized with the double thread technique. A dozen balls is necessary for the creation of a single bag. The shoulder strap is made separately and the whole is then united into one creation.
The symbols found on the bags are called kaanas which means “the art of woven designs”.
The handle is called gaza. Unlike the body of the bag, it is often made by men. In the same way that there are different bag bodies and different symbols, there are also different handles. The bottom of the bag is called plato. It is a reflection of the painstakingly careful quality of work.
The Wayuu hat is called uwomü and it is part of the colorful accessories that have gained importance in recent decades alongside the famous Mochilas hammocks and bags. Throughout the last century the community had been using more and more this hat, adorned with a belt made of cotton, the same material used for the mochilas Wayuu.
The uwomü hat, as the typical shoe called guaireñas, is made exclusively by men. The other items are the bags, the bracelets, the hammocks and blankets made by women. The technique used to make hats is commonly referred to as the “twill” technique or “diagonally woven” with flat yarns or strips of isii or mawisa straws.
The two predominant colors are the natural raw fibre with which it is woven and a black color. The use of dyes and oil paints has recently flavoured the integration of non-traditional colors such as red, yellow, green and blue.
The Wayuu hat is made up of three very different parts:
Beyond these technical data, the Wayuu hat refers to a lifestyle and meticulous work where quality is a fundamental element. Making a hat according to traditional customs usually requires a day’s work.
The Zenú community originated from northern Colombia in the sugar and Cordoba departments. They are experts in weaving with the large-leafed palm known as caña flecha and the pulp of the iraca palm.
The Zenú culture existed before Jesus Christ. They were developing major water works and producing gold ornaments. They are well known for their statues and high quality textiles that many Zenú descendents still produce today. Today their main activity is agriculture. They cultivate corn, rice, yuca and plátano. The creation of handicrafts is also part of their daily life. Both women and men participate in these two activities, and it is their primary source of revenue.
The emblematic product of the Zenú community is the sombrero vueltiao, a traditional hat with a circular braid which expresses the idea of unity in the universe and its eternity. Each hat reflects their spirituality. It takes around 10 to 15 days to create one hat.
The Zenus maintain their tradition of weaving with the caña flecha by creating products that preserve their history and feelings. Their creations contain authentic symbols of their group. These are called “pints” and each of them refers to the conception of the origin of the world, the elements of the fauna and flora of the region and the differentiation of Zenu clans and families.
There are more than seventy different patterns. Among the ones which stand out are: guinea fowl, coconut flower, small cricket, butterfly, granite rice, fish eye, lemon flower, arrows, cat’s hand, armadillo legs, small piloncito or pylon, large comb and small worm, spider, teeth or totumo flower and many others. Contemporary craftsmen’s workshops display their new vision inspired by objects, inventing them in thought and then weaving them into the braid. The creations follow the history of the community.
The original colors of the hats are black and white, but the workshops of contemporary craftsmen display new colors. To continue strengthening their crafts and diversify their braiding skills, new markets were opened for the Zenú community with the creation of various products.
The Embera indigenous people are located in the Chocó department (which is located in the eastern middle part of Colombia. They were originally called Chocó. They were initially a nomadic group dedicated to hunting, fishing and harvesting and had to settle in rural areas after the colonisation. Their handcrafts are their main source of revenue.
The person that is called Jaibana which is a witch, sorcerer, shaman, healer or spiritual guide plays a major role of a traditional doctor who also exercises authority and social control.
The Embera are well known for their unique beading skills and knowledge. Their bead-works contain unique symbolisms that talk about their natural environment, social codes and spiritual connections.
Their most appreciated piece is the Okama, a highly symbolic necklace worn only by women. According to a legend, these necklaces represent the wind’s sound that brings a sense of healing thanks to its whispering. The boys wear the Otapa which is a rectangular necklace.
Women weave pearl necklaces that tell stories, depending on size and color, the patterns represent concepts related to their beliefs and traditions. Red represents blood and race; yellow, joy, white, peace. The spiral represents the path, the circle, the community… Mothers have taught girls from generation to generation the cultural heritage through their skills.
The Iraka’s are known for their work with the Iraca palm tree. They mainly make hats and baskets. They reside in the department of Narino in southern Colombia. The men are responsible for collecting the straw which they carefully select because of its color and finesse. After drying and bleaching, in some cases, women and the elderly take over dyeing and weaving.
In the south of Colombia, the climatic and soil conditions are favorable for the plant. Each leaf that is born, when it is opened, determines a new height for the plant. Its length varies between 40 cm and 1.20 metres.
The weaving technique used by craftsmen to make products in Iraca is one of the richest and most delicate in the whole country. Among the tools and instruments used in the realization of these artisanal works, we find: needles, scissors, tweezers and pliers. The use of dyed Iraca fibre is becoming more and more common among craftsmen.
The dyes used for this purpose are divided into natural (seeds, leaves, bark and/or roots are used as cow’s tongue, walnut, black cedar) and minerals that allow to obtain ranges of different colors (yellow, blue, green gold), terra cotta, red wine and black).
The proportion of coloring varies according to the taste of each person. The bite is rarely used by them. The simplest dyeing consists in giving the straw its own yellowish color.
In the case of hats, each time they get wet, they must be put on the last one to prevent them from deforming. In Colombia, the main use given to Iraca and for which it is known not only at the national level but also at the international level is in the development of crafts.
The hat is the product that stands out in traditional Aguadeña craftsmanship. Another important product is the lining for glass containers, to which a considerable number of craftsmen are dedicated.
The technique of elaboration of different objects produced is the same, the difference lies in the type of point. One with hats is made with three straws and the other with two straws. Currently, 88% of the city’s families, who work in the same house, devote themselves to handicrafts; 93% carry out all the phases of bag making, this business being their main resource, the remaining 7% being exclusively spinning.
The Chibcha indigenous are one of the first civilizations of Colombia. They are located in the department of Cundinamarca, Boyacá and in the south of Santander. They speak the chibcha language.
The economy of their community consisted mainly in cultivating products like corn and potatoes, but also hunting and fishing. Nowadays, the Chibchas are a small community, which looks forward to preserving their language and culture through the knowledge of their skills.
A ruana is a poncho style garment typical of the Andean region of Venezuela and Colombia made by indigenous people. The word ruana means “Land of blankets”. Similar to other Latin American poncho clothing, a ruana is a kind of very thick, soft, sleeveless square or rectangular blanket with an opening in the centre so that the head can pass through with a slit on the front of the hem. A ruana can be equipped with a hood to cover the head.
They are made of wool and fall to the knees, and are well adapted to the cold temperatures of the region. Many ruanas are handmade from virgin sheep’s wool. With the passing years the ruana has become one of the symbols of Colombia. A proven craftsman can make up to 5 ruanas in 1 day. The entire manufacturing process is done by hand. A traditional ruana can weigh up to 2.5 kg and measures 1.5m x 1.4m.
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