Of all the indigenous communities in Latin America, the Wayúu is the largest in both Colombia and Venezuela, and they have also have one of the richest cultures. While other communities have lost their customs, native language, or territory, the Wayúu have kept their social, cultural, and economic customs alive. Their clan-based society is matrilineal: land and property are inherited through the maternal line.
In the heart of this Amerindian community, craftwork has a special importance, especially weaving and making footwear. These practices have been given a boost by Fundación Repsol, which embarked on the project to Strengthen the Wayuu Family Economy through the Wayuu Art of Weaving in Alta Guajira in 2016.
To date, 44 women artisans from Puerto Estrella have benefited from the project to consolidate training and the creation and sale of woven products. For Saraith Iguaran Aguilar, Fundación Talat’sh Tepichi’s project coordinator, “The funding has been essential, above all because of the remote location, which increases transport costs. Fundación Repsol has set up a school that will really make a difference for the women involved in this project, and will also affect the community as a whole.”
Unique weaving patterns for a unique culture
In addition to improving the economy, the project aims to keep cultural traditions alive given that “many women didn’t know the meaning of a particular pattern,” explained Saraith. For the Wayúu, their technique of weaving using only one strand of thread “is a way to express thoughts and emotions; for us, it’s art.” She emphasized that “the designs communicate our surroundings, the animals that are important in our culture, the shapes we see in the sky, the messages passed on from generation to generation.”
For the Wayúu, their technique of weaving using only one strand of thread “is a way to express thoughts and emotions; it’s art,” says Saraith Iguaran Aguilar, Fundación Talat’sh Tepichi’s project coordinator.
In addition to supporting meaningful, useful handicrafts, the initiative also has an educational function. The knowledge transmitted at the weaving school contributes by “strengthening the production chain and the project’s self-sustainability,” according to Saraith. “Each woman takes on specific roles so the project is fortified from within.”
Homage to Gabriel García Márquez
Some of the most popular designs from the collection are linked to Gabriel García Márquez. The winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature was exposed to the culture of the Wayúu people in Aracataca during his childhood.
According to experts, García Márquez’s magical realism not only stems from his endless creativity, but also drew inspiration from the shamanistic traditions of the Wayúu world. Specifically, one of the traditions he makes reference to is the Wayúu practice of holding a second burial in which the ritual is centered around the bones of the deceased family member. Macondo and One Hundred Years of Solitude are two reflections of this tradition.
The written influence of a culture
At the same time, with the collaboration of Fundación Repsol, the Wayúu people from this region now have the chance to interact with literature thanks to the inauguration of the Ramón Paz Ipuana Library in Puerto Estrella. It’s a way of showing our commitment to the girls, boys, and the educational community that aims to improve the reading habits of its youngest members.
One of the people involved in the project was Enilda Morales, a teacher who believes that this library will help “children grow up to love reading and researching.” When Enilda was approached with the proposal, she thought the best thing would be a library because it opens up an important path that leads into the future: “Now our task is to advance toward academic excellence, and we’re going to continue educating children to be able to maintain a dialogue and resolve conflicts.” We will see the results soon.