The Wayuu Weavers

〣 Location: La Guajira, Colombia | Zulia, Venezuela

〣 No of Artisans: 8 in Colombia, 12 in Venezuela

〣 Specialty Skill: Weaving, Punch-needling

"Our dream is to do what we do. We love our job as it passes from generation to generation. All our new family members are also learning the same art."

The Wayuu (pronounced as wai-you) people, an indigenous group from South America, are known as the people of the sun, sand, and wind. They arrived in the Guajira Peninsula of Colombia from the Amazon rainforest and Antilles around 150AD to escape hostile environments to find a new home. The tribe survived many fights and wars including with the Spanish in the 1700s and currently, the harsh environments to keep their culture and traditions alive. Population census estimates a total of 550,000 Wayuu people currently based in both the Guajira Peninsula in Colombia and across the border in Northwest Venezuela, with only slightly more than 140,000 living in Colombia today.

With just a handful of Wayuu people living worldwide, its culture and traditions are under threat - with many of its communities facing not just a crisis of cultural identity but also the harsh truth of not knowing where and when their next meal will be. According to UNICEF, the Guajira ranks second amongst the poorest in Latin America after Haiti.

In the last couple of years, the Guajira has been plagued by drought and famine due to global warming and climate change. The Colombian National Indigenous Organization once issued alerts about the famine affecting an estimated 130,000 Wayuu people in La Guajira. Minimal access to clean water is also becoming hard; large corporations are being blamed for contaminating the main water sources. With the lack of potable water, the Wayuu’s traditional form of subsistence - agriculture and animal husbandry - is becoming increasingly difficult for its people to continue its way of life.

Agriculture and animal husbandry keep Wayuu men busy. For the Wayuu woman, weaving is said to be an essential part of her culture as it symbolizes wisdom, intelligence and creativity. Passed down through generations, Wayuu women weave patterns in a variety of techniques, shapes and colours. Women see it as their opportunity to tell their story and share their dreams. A single Wayuu bag can take 2-4 weeks to make because of its handwoven nature, with each bag being unique to its maker. Therefore, the more sophisticated her weaving, the greater authority and respect she has in her community. And the women, through their weavings, are made breadwinners of their families.

One of our goals at Our Barehands is to ensure that our producing communities have a sustainable livelihood - one where they will not have to worry about theirs or their family’s next meal. It’s simple; we believe that the more demand there is for Wayuu bags, the more income can be generated for our Wayuu producing communities.

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