Wayuu mochila bags or mochilas are a traditional skill that has been practiced by Wayuu women for hundreds of years. The craft of weaving these bags is an art that is learned by the Wayuu women from an early age. Wayuu culture is known for making Wayuu bags or mochila bags.
Wayuu is a Native American ethnic group of the Guajira Peninsula in the northernmost part of Colombia on the Caribbean coast and northwest Venezuela. Although the region is mind-blowing with the contrast of desert and ocean, the people are very underprivileged, living in small wooden shelters. In many subregions of La Guajira, there is no running water, and drinking water must be bought and obtained elsewhere. In many parts of La Guajira´s high deserts, there has been little to no rainfall in over 3 years.
Customarily, the Wayuu live in small remote settlements made up of five or six households. These are known as caseríos. An area containing a number of caseríos generally takes on the last name of the mother of the family, due to the Wayuu´s matriarchal structure. Wayuu people rarely ever live in towns or central areas of cities, and caseríos are generally spread out over large regions.
The Wayuu people’s philosophies and ecological inclinations impact each bag’s pattern design and color. Each mochila bag is a window into the culture, memories, and narrations of livelihood of the indigenous group. Their mythologies explain how Wayuu women were originally trained how to weave by a spider-like deity named Wale ´Kerü.
Rites of passage to adulthood
The creation of the Wayuu bag begins during her first menstrual cycle. Young girls stay confined to their homes for a period of six to twelve months. During this time, she is only allowed to have contact with her mother and her grandmother. Throughout these months of confinement, these 2 women will teach her everything she needs to know about being a Wayuu woman and caring for her future husband and children. It is during this time that she learns about belonging, and about the art of weaving unique and authentic, Wayuu bags.
How long does it take to make a Wayuu bag?
It is said that a double-threaded Wayuu bag can take anywhere from 10 to 15 days. Although this might not always be the case since women are responsible for the daily house and family chores.
On average, a double threaded Wayuu bag takes about five hours to make, while single-threaded bags take 10 hours in total. Usually, the men are responsible for weaving the straps of the bags.
As a large majority of people from the indigenous Wayuu community have little or no access to education, many households solely rely on this craft for their income.
Video translation: "We consider our crafts to be works of art. Each and every culture within Colombia has that richness, and we need to take care of them and embrace them, and we need to continuously work to preserve those traditions.
Many developed countries would like to have what we have. When people acquire our products, call them mochilas, hammocks, hats, they acquire stories about cultures that dream, that have dreams. They are not just taking any product; they are borrowing a story of a community that has a legacy and history." - Voice of a Wayuu weaver (This video is the property of Artesanias de Colombia).