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De Wayuu samenleving

The Wayuu are an ethnic group of Amerindians hailing from the la Guajira peninsula in northern Colombia and northwestern Venezuela. The Wayuu themselves reject this term and prefer to be known, like everybody else, simplyb as ‘human’ or ‘people’. According to a Venezuelan census of 2001 they number 277.000 of whom 60.000 live in the town of Maracaibo. They are therefore the largest indigenous group in Venezuela and make up approximately 60% of the Amerindian population. They speak ‘wayuunaiki’, which belongs to the Maipurian (Arawak) family of languages.

Their small dwellings are known as ‘piichi’ or ‘miichie’ and a tradional settlement consits of a number of these simple huts, the walls ( yotojoro), built from a mixture of mud and straw and covered with dried cactus-hearts. Peronal belongings, along with pots filled with food and drinking water are kept here in the shade. They sleep in hammolcks and the women handweave, amongst other things, bags, known as ‘mochilas’, to supplement their income.The settlements are always named after animals, plants or nearby places and in order to ensure the purity of their goat-herds are always situated a good distance from one another. In Colombia these settlements are known as ‘rancherias’ and in Venezuela as ‘caserios’. Two rivers flow through their rocky territory: The Rancheria in Colombia and El Limon in Venezuela. Together with basins from collecting rainwater these rivers are the most important source of drinking water. This tropical region knows to wet seasons ‘Jayapu’ and ‘Iwa’. The dry seasons from December-April and May- September, are both known as ‘Jemial’.

In order to play their traditional music, the Wayuu have developed their own instruments, mostly wind.They play these at tribal gatherings, festivals and funerals. They also sing to their livestock. The ‘yona’ is a traditional dance to honour their guests. During ‘Majayura’ – the ritual for the young Wayuu virgin – the girl dances towards her future husband, accompanied by the instrumental rythmns of the other men, until the bridegroom falls to the ground. As a matriarchal culture no value is placed on the boys’ puberty, but when the girls begin to menstruate they take part in a puberty ritual.

The Wayuu do not believe that death is the end, but that relations continue with the bones of the deceased. Funerals play a vital role in this. A child will be buried with his or her personel possessions only to be disinterred and cremated two years later. The ashes will be placed in a ceramic urn and re-buried in the clans’ own cemetery.


De Mochila

The mochila is made by the Wayuu Indians on rancherias in la Guajira (Colombia) and north-west Venezuela. An inhospitable desert-like area on a spit of land extending into the Caribbean Sea in the extreme north of South America. Similar kind of symbols as in our western fairytales play a part in theirs, such as spinning wheels, woven textile and more.

The origin of the mochila finds its roots in the story of Wale Kern. When a hunter named Irunnuu meets an ugly, invalid girl he is overcome with pity. He brings her home to take care of her, to the complete dissatisfaction of his sisters. At night she metamorphosizes into a stunning beauty who, in a mysterious way, spinns full colored threads out of her mouth. In this way she produces the mochila, which she leaves behind for her hero, while her ‘sisters’ almost die of jealousy and make mean plans to undermine the intruder.But they can’t prevend Wale Kern from conquering the hearts of the Wayuu clan and she becomes a ‘spider woman’, avant la lettre. She gave the glorious push to create the mochila as a product. From adulthood the women create these bags in sober earth tones or expanding rainbow colors. The ageold way of weaving never changed and it became a basic thing for these rare people of nature. The designs consist of geometrical symbols and abstract forms derived from the elements: Water, Fire, Air, Earth. The makers also try to integrate their rich emotional world in the fine handwopven bags, each one unique! They travel north from their ‘rancherias’, especially the women, and bring their merchandise in the unbearable heat of the sun on a long dusty road, to the streets of the city Cabo de la Vela. Treated as an attraction they are permanently photographed there by tourists; in the meanwhile the bags are highly regarded on the whole continent.

Because of their modesty and integrity they ought to be forgotten while bad reproductions by Chinese copy-cats seem to take over. That’s why it is more than an honour to defend and explore the real Wayuu art, so these people can survive by maximising the sale of their mochilas so their folklore can be safeguarded foprever.