The wayuu people
The Wayuu Indians are the largest group of indigenous people in Colombia representing 30% of the indigenous group in Colombia. The term Wayuu means ‘a person’.
They inhabit one of the most remote regions of Colombia and of Venezuela– the desert of La Guajira. La Guajira is a unique coastal desert that is covered in sand dunes, arid landscapes, and exquisite beaches. The climatic conditions of La Guajira are very dry and arid with harsh sun (he temperatures vary between 35°C and 42°C along the year), strong winds and above all lack of water. Climate change and bad water management is especially having a significant impact on the area and collecting water is becoming increasingly difficult for the local communities.
The Wayuu people live mainly in the rural areas of La Guajira in huts called rancherias made from cactus or palm-leaf thatched roofs,yotojoro(mud, hay or dried cane) walls with basic furniture. Each community also has a communal area called luma or enramada which are used for social gatherings and business meetings.
They are also unique in that they are a matriarchal society meaning that the women of the family own the houses and run the families while the fathers work with the animals and the land.
The tribe probably settled in La Guajira from the Amazon rainforest and Antilles in 150AD and since then they have been fighting to keep their traditions alive. When the Spanish arrived in Colombia they tried several times to subjugate the Wayuu people but very difficult geographic conditions, the lack of clean water and the extraordinary bravery of the Wayuu ultimately forced the Spanish to give up their dreams of colonization of the region.
Keeping traditions alive: the art of weaving
Thanks to this isolation the Wayuu community has been able to maintain several of their traditions alive such as the use of the language “Wayuunaiki “from the Arawak family (some of the Wayuu members actually do not even speak Spanish at all) and the generational art of weaving which is passed down from mother to daughter from an early age.
According to the Wayuulegend, the tradition of weaving comes from a spiderWale’kerüthat taught the Wayuu women how to weave and use the colours and patterns as a storytelling technique.
Learning the art of crocheting is a rite of passage in the Wayuu community. During her first menstrual cycle a Wayuu woman is obliged to stay confined in a hut from six months to a year. During this time, she is only allowed to have contacts with her mother and her grandmother who will teach herWayuutraditions, customs, household tasks and, most importantly, the art of crocheting. At the end of their seclusion, the girls are formally introduced into society asmajayut(young ladies), ready to face the adult life in their communities.