The Wayuus are an indigenous community descended from the Arawak ethnic group that resides in the deserted Guajira peninsula on the Caribbean Sea, between La Guajira in Colombia and Zulia in Venezuela. Its geographical location in bordering lands is due to the fact that they existed before the creation of the current countries, which were made without taking into account Wayuu history and traditions.
They are currently the most representative and most populated ethnic group in the entire region, with approximately 600,000 members, of whom 97% speak their native language, wayuunaiki and 32% are fluent in spanish.
Among its most ancient traditions and customs are hunting, fishing and horticulture in areas where it is possible. The European intervention meant the loss of farmland and hunting for the Wayuu, so they began the practice of herding goats and cattle, which were introduced species.
The Wayuu live predominantly in huts called rancherías made from cactus or palm-leaf-thatched roofs, yotojoro (mud, hay or dried cane walls) with basic furniture which including hammocks for sleeping and a small fire pit for cooking.
This tribe has inhabited the harsh environments of the La Guajira desert for centuries, living with the land and passing on traditions throughout generations.
They have survived many battles with a number of groups, and fought off many Spanish invasions throughout the 18th century. The tribe strengthened due to gaining new knowledge from Dutch and British invaders who taught them to fight, use firearms, and ride horses. The Spanish captured a small number of the tribe and forced them to help build the walled city of Cartagena to protect it from invasion.
Despite the expansion of the two republics on their territory, the Wayuu maintained a wide extralegal autonomy that has only recently been constitutionally recognized by both countries (Colombia and Venezuela) and is characterized by the application of their own law throughout their own territory.
Their society is organized into clans, also known as e’iruku, governed by an ancestral system of judicial authority headed by a pütchipü or pütche’ejachi, who is responsible for resolving conflicts. Currently 30 of these are recognized throughout the territory made up of extensive matrilineal families, so the arrival of a new baby girl in the community is well-celebrated.
It is common to find shamans within Wayúu culture communities, both men and women, with various supernatural abilities linked to nature. They use different elements such as maracas, tobacco and pathogenic elements.
The economy of the community is mixed. On the one hand, most of the group’s production was carried out within the grazing of cattle and goats, but the social conditions to which they have been subjected in recent times forces them to carry out other activities such as fishing, horticulture, ceramics and textile production, which has become an emblem of its culture worldwide. Its famous fabrics can be found in a variety of products such as chinchorros (hammocks), clothing in general and mochila bags, which are highly recognized not only for their vibrant colors but also for the thickness of their threads.
Another great source of income for the Wayuu is the extraction of salt, given the abundance of this product in the region..
The gastronomy and the economy of the Wayúu culture are closely related, as they eat many of the products they sell. Sheep is their main food, from which it may be prepared in various ways. One of them is the Frishe dish, combining all the viscera of the sheep. There is also the Sisina, which is a meat exposed for more than four days in the sun while being completely covered in salt. Also, the ram in coconuts is very famous. Its most well-known drink is Ujolu, a concoction made from corn.
The different daily activities, festivities and rituals widely involve the use of traditional music produced by flutes or canutillas–drums and whistles made from half a dried lemon. The indigenous dance yocna or yonna is used in celebrations related to the development of women and involves steps where she advances, challenging the man who recoils, trying not to fall.
Women, through their weavings, are the breadwinners of their families. The knowledge–passed from generation to generation–takes amazing shape in the hands of Wayuu women. They weave numerous patterns in a variety of techniques, forms and colors. Weaving is the Wayuu way to tell their story and describe their dreams. It is also the hand-woven reflection of their daily lives.
Knowing the art of weaving patterns is highly respected within the community. Owning many fine-woven accessories symbolizes authority and earns great respect within the community.
Wayuu Mochila Bags is their most popular artisan craft, however it showcases only a small part of their diverse culture. The Wayuu women are dedicated to weaving hammocks (Chinchorros) or crocheting the “Wayuu Mochilas”.
The Wayuu men participate as well; they make the straps, straw hats, blankets, and shoes, provide the materials and transport the goods to the city centers. Most of the women presently weave or will do it at some point through their lifetime.
The weaving and crocheting for the Wayuu people are more than a cultural practice and inheritance of their ancestors, it is a way of conceiving and expressing life as they feel and desire it. An art thought and enjoyed. The observation of their innumerable weaving patterns allows them to read the spirit that guides their actions and thoughts. At a very early age (about 12-year-old), Wayuu girls are taught the art of crocheting Wayuu bags as part of their tradition and legacy. They have been weaving and crocheting for centuries now.
To discover our article on the Mochila Bags click here
The Italian photographer, Nicolò Filippo Rosso, traveled to the Colombian Guajira with the aim of being able to live more closely with the Wayuus and their culture. In this way, he managed to capture several stories of their day-to-day reality with his camera.
It is a Colombian NGO that accompanies communities affected by Colombia’s historic armed conflict in their pursuit of peace, justice, reconciliation, and community well-being. Their slogan is ‘Let’s get together’.
Wajaro developed a women’s artisan association to create income generation possibilities for Wayuu families. They have worked towards partnering with a local indigenous seminary to offer theological education to Protestant leaders from across the Wayuu territory.
They accompany local leaders working for peace and justice in their territories. They believe peace-building requires creative strategies that honor a community’s unique strengths and identity and is shaped by their local context.
A Colombian state entity that has sought to promote the productive, innovative, inclusive and sustainable development of the Colombian artisan sector for more than 50 years. Also they stand for the preservation, rescue and appropriation of the cultural heritage represented in the crafts and artisan tradition.
It has several offices or “innovation labs” as they call them, to cover all the extensive cultural diversity of the region, adapting each to the needs of the place.
This institution was created with the objective of improving the living conditions of the indigenous communities of Latin America, while maintaining a respect for their culture, traditions and beliefs. It does this with programs focusing on the areas of health, nutrition, education, infrastructure, sport, recreation, arts and culture, ensuring integral human development for the population.
Any sort of benefit gained by the foundation is invested in activities and other aspects which are intended to inspire a positive change. Institutional alliances and volunteer work is the key to help support the execution of the foundation’s projects.
This travel agency offers a unique experience to the tourist, where they can visit the most exotic places of the Colombian Guajira and live with the Wayuu within their own surroundings in a ranchería and sleep in Chinchorro while enjoying their gastronomy and witnessing their daily survival activities.
For more info visit – https://www.guajiratours.com/
This agency offers tours of the most beautiful beaches in La Guajira, while allowing the tourist to share the Wayuu lifestyle with the locals while simultaneously learning about their customs and lifestyle. All this remains under a philosophy of responsible behaviour and conservation of the environment, which are a source of wealth and subsistence for the Wayuu.
For more info visit – https://macuiratours.com/
The Hotel Waya Guajira offers a very educational experience about Wayuu culture, from afternoons shared in rancherias to informative talks by Wayuu natives explaining their traditions, art, customs and legends. What an incredible experience for all of the senses and learning about seeking the development of communities.
For more info visit – https://macuiratours.com/
Founder and Artistic Director