History of the Wayuu

Archaeological discoveries in la Guajira province in Colombia's far north,show the presence of the Wayuu as early as 10 B.C. They were more numerous than other indigenous peoples, such as the Koguis, Arhuacos, Guanebucanes and the Chimilas. They were a nomadic people; fishing, hunting, living off the land, but also incredibly artistic and creative.

Spanish colonisation


First sighting of the Guajira Peninsula from the Alonso de Ojeda ship, the same year Columbus oficially 'discovered' America.


The first Spanish expedition, led by Juan de la Cosa, sets foot on Cabo de la Vela. Initial exploration and exploitation of the South American continent leaves the Wayuu undisturbed. This remains the status quo for about two centuries. The rebellious and indominitable character of this pure blooded tribe causes many a headache for the European invaders.


Martin Fernández de Enciso lays the foundations for the first settlements in the area. Hostilities ensue with the colonists and their Venezuelan allies the Wayuu remain unsubjugated.


The Spanish import 800 African slaves.


The Santa Marta government offers the slaves their freedom in exchange for their undertaking to defend la Guajira against English pirates and a Venezuelan attempt to take control of the region's large pearl reserves. This also marked the beginning of the ethnic diversity for which the region is famous.

The Guajira rebellions.

Despite many attempts by the Spanish and their allies drawn from other local tribes, the Wayuu remained undefeated and free.


Indians destroy the cappuchin mission which leads to almost 3/4 of a century of constant warfare, which only comes to an end when all the Wayuu unite and rebel after the capture of 22 members of the tribe. 20.000 warriors burn down the village of El Rincon and kill about 100 Spanish troops, imprison the priest and execute the general and eight other officers.


the Spanish governor Soto de Herrera labelled them 'barbarian horse thieves, without a king or any legal framework. At the time the Wayuu were the only indigenous people able to ride horses.and use western firearms.Before the invasions carried out in the name of the Spanish king, the indefatigable Wayuu purchased pistols and muskets from English, Dutch and even Spanish smugglers.

The Republican period

New Granada and Magdalena lay claim to the Wayuu territories. 100 Years later Colombia claims sovereignty.


The republic of New Granada annexes the Guajira territory from the State of Magdalena.


La Gaujira Commission formed by the Colombian Government. A wave of immigration follows from Lebanon, Syria, Palestine, Jordan and the Ottoman Empire. Most of the newcomers settle in Maicao.


Thousand days of war

1899-1902. La Guajira is the scene for rivalries between liberals and conservatives. Some of the Wayuu ally themselves with the radical liberal Rafael Uribe Uribe primarily for economic reasons, whilst others, due to family ties, choose to join the conservative general Iguarin. To the present day la Guajira suffers from violence as a result of guerilla groups and smuggling gangs.