the WAYUU mochila
The famed Wayuu Mochilas are an integral part of the culture and beliefs of the Wayuu tribe, an Amerindian community of the Guajira Peninsula in Northern Colombia and Venezuela. For the Wayuu, weaving is more than a trade or a craft: it is a cultural practice, an ancestral inheritance and a personal yet collective way of self-expression. Weaving is the way the Wayuu women pass on the pillars of their culture and lifestyle from generation to generation, and most importantly a medium through which they may tell their own story.
According to lore, the practice of weaving mochilas and chinchorros (hammocks) originated from a spider they call Wale’ Kerü. Legend has it that Wale’ Kerü fell in love with a Wayuu man and they eloped. When he brought her to meet his family his mother gave Wale’ Kerü a gift of cotton. The spider devoured the material and a few moments later spun cotton, ready for weaving, starting coming out of her mouth. Every day upon waking, this spider would weave hammocks and mochilas. Mesmerized by her beautiful creations the curious Wayuu people begged Wale’ Kerü to teach them how to make these items. Wale’ Kerü obliged, but only taught one Wayuu woman. This woman began to pass the tradition down to her children and they to theirs keeping the craft and tradition as alive and vibrant as ever.
Today there are many different types of Wayuu woven products ranging from the traditional single-thread and double-thread bucket bags to more modern shapes such as totes and clutches. The weaving is done by the women of the tribe as the men are responsible for taking care of the livestock and farming. They begin using wild cotton, which they spin in order to begin the weaving process.
The well-known Wayuu mochilas today are crocheted, a technique which came about when Catholic missionaries travelled to Colombia at the beginning of the 20th century, and each bag can take up to one month to complete. The vibrant colors that make them so recognizable were also influenced by Spanish colonization as they introduced the Wayuu people to colorful acrylic threads.
Today these mochilas have become synonymous with Colombian artisanal tradition and they are coveted all over the world, from our own home country all the way through Europe and Asia, they are truly works of wearable art.