We are pleased to introduce to you the emblematic mochila bags by the Wayuu indigenous of Colombia, a form of expression of the incredible skills and knowledge of the weavers in La Guajira. Discover the main components, symbols and characteristics of the mochilas in this article.
The Wayuu people, 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. The community lives in rectangular cactus wood houses called rancherias.
Most of the Wayuu speak their own language, Wayuunaiki, as well as Spanish, . They entrenched themselves in the Guajira desert after the colonization. These lands allowed them to conserve and preserve their culture and customs by having resisted the invaders and keeping control of their territory. Today, their natural resources are threatened by the mines that use and pollute them. They make a living mainly by breeding and weaving mochila bags as well as hammocks called chinchorros. We recognize mochila bags by their round shape, as well as their symbols and colors.
“Women are the heart of the tribe: protectors of the homes and decision-makers in the community”
The community is based on a matriarchal system; the women have the authority. According to the Wayuus, everything on earth is connected and has a soul. In other words, each vegetable, animal, human or mineral has a spirit. Nature is particularly important to them and they believe in “Mother Earth”.
“For the Wayuus, being a woman means knowing how to weave”
Textile is their canvas of expression. It is an art that allows them to express their feelings, thoughts and vision of the world. There is a symbolism that is expressed not only by their weavings, but also by designs and colors that women paint on their faces.
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.” From their adolescence, Wayuu girls learn to weave. This is an integral part of their education and of the transmission of culture by the older generations. This learning, throughout their life, makes them extremely gifted craftswomen who can make woven articles of very high quality. Women are also judged by their weaving.
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..
Picture by Artesanías de Colombia
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. At the origin they were entirely made of natural fibers, today unfortunately they are made of acrylic. 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”. These are drawings of animals, constellations, flowers or objects present in the environment of weavers. The designs are characterized by geometric compositions which are repeated. The work requires extraordinary attention to detail and dexterity of the fingers.
The bags are real canvases of women’s expression. This allows them to demonstrate their feelings and what surrounds them. It is not easy to convey correct information on this subject due to the diversity of symbols and the evolution of techniques over time. We realized that some bags still have real symbolism while others have more aesthetic appeal.
Here’s what we managed to find:
Valentina, who works with Hands of Colombia, shares her vision and the importance of culture and community.
We thank you all people that contribute to this article:
Soy Wayuuando https://www.instagram.com/soywayuuando/
Jeanne de Mazonia https://mazonia.fr/
Sumaj Feeling https://www.instagram.com/sumajfeeling.co/
Laury Herrera https://www.instagram.com/lherrera_fotografia/
Artesanias de Colombia http://artesaniasdecolombia.com.co/
Warren de Hands of Colombia https://handsofcolombia.com/
Wayuu Market https://wayuumarket.com/
Ilenia de Chilabags https://chilabags.com/
Kimberly de Chila Colombina https://www.chilacolombina.com/
La Mochila https://la-mochila.com/
Waya Bags https://wayabags.com/en/home/
Wayuu Taya Foundation http://www.wayuutaya.org/
Founder and Artistic Director