Who Are The Wayuu Tribe?

Wayuu Festival

Who are the Wayuu people? What do they do? And, where do they come from?

The Wayuu (pronounced why-you) are a Native American ethnic group of the Guajira Peninsula in northern Colombia and northwest Venezuela. They speak the Wayuu language, which is part of the Maipuran (Arawak) language family. Having lived in that region for hundreds of years, they are one of the few Latin American indigenous people that have resisted European culture and language, sticking to their own heritage.

The Wayuu produce one of the most complex crochet and textile techniques that we have seen and they are known for preserving their rituals, celebrations to death, and heritage. The group live in Racheria’s, which means a small, rural selection of huts in the Alta Guajira, housing families of the different clans. They are known for sleeping in hammocks and cooking from saucepans that are suspended on hooks, within their hut, just under the roofs.

The Wayuu women often rise early, before dawn breaks, to set up a wood fire and start preparing their morning coffee. They actually only eat twice a day, with the last meal consisting of Yucca, rice or pasta with goat, mutton or grated cheese. They also love fried bananas as an accompinament and Chicha – a fermented corn drink. Not only do they live off their own foods and the land, but they also eat with their fingers, like other cultures, as a more appreciative way to eat food.

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From what I have learned, and over the years of learning the Wayuu heritage, it’s evident that the women of the tribe are extremely inspirational. Not only do they spend all of their time weaving beautiful bags, but they look after their families and children too. It’s the mother’s job to educate their children (although they do have a small government school in La Guajira) and teach the girls the complex skills and valuable lessons of their craft, to carry it on for generations.

This brings me to the amazing Mochila bags that they create every day. I would say these stunning bags are an art form, a craft, and a skill that should be recognised. Some of the ones we stock are simple, elegant and classic, with lots of beautiful colours, while our other Mochila bags are adorned with crystals and leather, while being lined inside by Nina Bonita, a Colombian designer that works with the Wayuu tribe. You can read more about the making of these bags, how it’s done and what makes them so special just below.

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The Wayuu weaving and trading technique and the Mochila bag

Crafts play a huge role in the the Wayuu families, often being their entire source of income. This is usually in the form of handcrafted products which they use to trade. The Wayuu women buy the yarn in bulk and subcontract the work to their other families. Some of them are employed, while others will work from their home. Their finished pieces are often sold, sometimes to travellers and the capital city, but girls will have learned these crafting techniques from a very young age, in order to help make household goods. These skills include: learning how to crochet, to make the famous Mochila bags, studying embroidery to decorate dresses, they even learn Egyptian pleating and twigging for making clothes and hammocks, while occasionally also doing pottery.

In the past, the Wayuu women always made their crafted pieces for their own personal use, or for their families, but as I’m sure you can tell, there’s a growing trend for their Mochila bags and hammocks from multiple cultures all over the world.  This Summer has already seen their crochet technique being put in the forefront of fashion as brands release them, so you definitely want to get on the trend.

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If you want to know more about the Wayuu crafting, there is a great deal of variety when it comes to their crochet work. We obviously know about the Mochila crochet bags, which come in all shapes and sizes. The smallest is used to keep amulets strapped close to the body, the middle sizes serve as money bags and can be worn by the males on their s’iras. Then you have the handbag, these beautiful bags are used to transport clothes and for storage, but there’s also the ‘Kapoterras’ which is used for storing and carrying hammocks.

When it comes to the weaving, these bags are all worked in a close, tight stitch and feature crochet edges with fringing, often resembling floral or geometrical motifs which are woven into the fabric. They make their bracelets and belts in exactly the same way, all by hand, using their patterns called ‘kanas’. In fact, every community has its own kanas pattern, mostly inspired by their surroundings and life. With these extra items, the men can also get involved by making straps and bracelets, along with tending to the animals.

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So, now that you have learned all about the Wayuu people, their way of living and their skills for making some of the most beautiful, handmade products around the world, you should feel honoured to own such an art form for yourself. Every purchase goes towards helping their families and providing them with essentials that they need, putting ethical fashion at the forefront.

If you love bright colours, happiness, and putting a smile on peoples faces, a Mochila bag is the way to do it. They will just liven up any outfit and scream Summer. What could be better than having a beautiful crochet bag and helping a great culture?

If you are easy going and like to keep things simple, then our standard Wayuu Mochila bags would be for you, with such pretty shades. If you prefer something more fancy and full of sparkle, one of our Luxury Mochila bags would be ideal as they are adorned with crystal and leather, making them stand out from the rest. They are 100% handmade and take around 3 weeks to make, with plenty of love and care. All of the Brandfair bags are made by Wayuu tribe of La Guajira, Colombia and each one means something to its maker. Please do check out our collection of beautiful, handmade Mochilla bags, made by the Wayuu women and Nina Bonita at our shop.

Images courtesy of Columbian Made, Cctv-America, Hello Art & See Colombia.

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