The Project

CASTELLANO supports the ethnic communities in Colombia who seek to preserve their weaving skills and cultural heritage. Our aim is to help improve the living conditions for the traditional weavers, their families and the community, with an emphasis on clean water, electricity and education.


We collaborate with the INDIGENOUS WOMEN’S ASSOCIATION, and we work directly with Wayuu and Arhuaca women whose handmade mochilas and bracelets are second to none.  

With donations from every CASTELLANO sale we support social projects in the community, and bring employment to the highly skilled weavers in the north of Colombia, enabling them to preserve their way of life and tell their story through the patterns and colours they weave, each mochila or bracelet unique in its own right.

This page is dedicated to raise awareness of the human side of CASTELLANO products, and their origin. We aim to share information and knowledge about the history and culture of the Wayuu and Arhuaca indigenous tribes. In the blog “news section” we will post stories of the weavers and their lives, and our time spent with the tribes, both in the unforgiving northern desert and the colourful mountains of Colombia.

Welcome to the world of the Wayuu and Arhuaca communities.                                                                                  


The Wayuu   The Arhuaca                               

 

The Wayuu people are an ethnic group from the La Guajira Peninsula in northern Colombia and northwest Venezuela. In Colombia, the Wayuu live in the Guajira desert straddling the Caribbean coast. The Wayuu have their own language called Wayuunaiki. It is part of the Arawak language predominant in different parts of the

Caribbean. The Wayuu not only produce one of the most intricate crochet and textile techniques in the world, but they are also known for preserving their rituals and heritage.  There is a huge background of the Wayu culture that expands beyond its colourful Mochilas bags, beautiful hammocks, rare shrouds and the Si’ira, which keeps the male loincloth in place! 

 

ORIGINS

The arrival of the Wayuu in the Guajira region dates back to a period long before the Spanish conquest. It is likely that the Indians fled to the peninsula after being driven out of an area that was more fertile and rich in water. During the 16th century the Spaniards made attempts to colonise the Guajira. The Indians put up a strong fight and became known as a fierce tribe. By the 17th century the Spanish occupiers had all but withdrawn, leaving a few missionaries and, of more importance to the Indians, a lot of cows, sheep, goats, donkeys and horses behind.

 

LIFESTYLE 

 

A “Ranchería” refers to a small, rural settlement of huts in the Alta Guajira where families of different clans live. The Wayuu people sleep in hammocks and cook in saucepans that are usually suspended from hooks under the roof of a hut. The Wayuu women rise before dawn, light a wood fire and start preparing coffee. The native Wayuu only eat twice a day. The last meal of the day usually consists of “Yucca”, rice or pasta with goat, mutton or grated cheese, with fried bananas (platano) as a standard side dish. To drink there is a mug of “chicha” (a fermented corn drink). Everyone eats with his or her fingers.  The household chores are done in the early morning: later preparing food and the grinding of corn for “chicha”, a fermented corn drink which forms an important addition to the meals.

Some, but not all of the children, in la Guajira attend a small government school up to an hour's walk away. 


 

In La Guajira there is no running water or electricity. 

The Wayuu people have developed a lifestyle geared to survival in the arid wilderness of the Peninsula. It is a society with a complex social structure and traditions, which have evolved from their unique circumstances.

In the past the Wayuu economy was based on bartering goods and services. Fishing and agriculture was the main source of income, but persistent droughts in recent times have made it impossible to grow sufficient crops. Nowadays, the Wayuu have little option but to sell their crafts in order to provide for their needs as the droughts and poor return on farming coupled with the increase in demand for their handmade ethnic weaves.

 

 

The sun is their source of light, water comes from a well or watering hole and food is cooked on wood fires. The rhythm of life is determined by keeping goats, fishing,  gathering fruit, roots and seeds, and collecting water for food preparation.

 

WEAVING AND TRADING


Some families rely entirely on crafts for their income. The Wayuu make all kinds of handcrafted products for their own use and for trade. They buy yarn in bulk and provide work for several families together.  

Wayuu women prepare the design for a large hammock themselves, a skill not all prossess. Some families sell their work to other Wayuu leaders who collect crafts and sell them to travellers or send the items to the city. From an early age girls learn craft techniques such as crocheting to make bags, embroidery to decorate the manta (dress) sprang (Egyptian pleating) and twigging for making simple hammocks.

 


MATRIARCHY, THE SI’IRA AND THE RITUALS

In the Wayuu culture the mother or oldest female heads the family. The marriages are polygamous. The man can marry several wives, as long as he is able to support all of them financially. Each wife has her own house and the husband has to go from house to house to visit his wives. He must pay a dowry in the form of money, cattle and jewellery upon each marriage and the women will supply textiles. This consists of hammocks, storage bags (“susus”) and at least one Si’ira for the husband. (this tradition has changed from time to time as some of the new generations have adapted to the modern Colombian society and lifestyle)

A beautiful Si’ira enhances the status of a man. It is proof that he has an intelligent wife for whom he must have paid a significant dowry. It also means that she is able to find the time to do such labour – and does not have to spend her day looking after the cattle and family. 

Not every woman can weave a good Si’ira, she has to posses the intelligence to comprehend the complex technique, the skill to weave it faultlessly and the gift of artistry to enhance its beauty through her choice of patterns and colours. 

With a good Si’ira a woman will try to distinguish herself through her superior craftsmanship and ever finer use of details, colour combinations, patterns and dimensions. 

 

Rituals

The Wayuu people have a strict ritual for all women at their young age called “Blanqueo” .  This is a period of initiation where every girl is isolated from society and must live with her grandmother. During this period the girls learn crafting techniques that are applied in the making of household goods: Crocheting the bags, embroidery to decorated dresses, sprang and twinning for the making of simple hammocks.

Healthy adult men are in charge of branding, castrating and healing the animals. The growing of beans, corn and pumpkins is also man’s work, as is hunting fishing and brewing alcohol. Boys and children fetch water from the well to the house, take the animals to the watering holes and to their grazing and look after them there.

 

THE WEAVE

The weaving of the Wayuu women is unique and unlike any other technique on the planet. It is a time consuming technique that has been passed down from generation to generation.

Both men and woven produce textile for sale. There is a clear male/female division: any work involving braiding techniques, ply-splitting techniques, needle lace and tufting is done by the men while the women do embroidery, crocheting, sewing, spinning and weaving. The non textile crafts practiced by men include leatherwork, making utensils out of coconut shells and gourds as well as tool making. Women do bead work and pottery.

In the past the Wayyu women only made handicrafts for their own use. Nowadays there is a growing interest in their work outside their cultures. The Hammocks are the most important textile product. There are two kinds of hammocks: ones with an open structure “The Chinchorros”, are made using a warp twinning or weft twinning techniques and woven hammocks “Hammacas” that have a closed texture.

There is a great variety in the Wayuu crocheted work. There are “Mochilas”, crocheted bags, in all shapes and sizes. The smallest one help to keep amulets strapped close to the body. Slightly bigger bags serve as moneybags and are worn by the man on their si’iras. Then there are handbags, “Mochilas”, bigger bags or “susus” that are used for the transport or storage of clothes and kitbags, “Kapoterras” for storing and carrying hammocks. These bags are all worked in a fairly tight stitch and crocheted edge with fringe, which usually has a geometrical or floral motive worked in.

The head of the clan is called a “Cacique”, naturally his dress reflects his status. He wears a lion cloth with a Si’ira that is broader then usual and have fine designs. The cloths that stand him apart as headman is the “Sheii”, the dead man’s cloak, and the “karats”: his headdress.

The Sheii is the most beautiful of all Wayuu woven textiles.  It is a big rectangular cloth, which is wrapped around the body. The cloak has many colorful bands that are woven in very broad traditional patterns, or “Kanas”, that run along the length of the cloak. One cloth is woven by several women together who are seated next to each other at a big loom. The Sheii also serves as a shroud and that is why so few of them remain; they have all been buried with passing Caciques.

Note

All the pictures in this section were taken during our trips and time living with the tribes in Colombia. For those interested in sharing our material or more information please contact [email protected] For those who want to learn more about the Wayuu textiles and weavings techniques we highly recommend to visit Mirja Wark and take a look at her book completely dedicated to the Si'ira. Visit http://www.mirjawark.nl

 

The Arhuaco people are an indigenous people of Colombia. They are Chibchan-speaking community and descendents of the Tairona culture, concentrated in northern Colombia in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta and Cesar Department.

Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta is a mountainous region just 26 miles from Colombia’s Caribbean coast. It is a unique pyramid-shaped mountain on the northern tip of the Andes in northern Colombia. On its slopes live four separate but related peoples: the Arhuaco (or Ika), Wiwa, Kogi, and Kankuamo. Together they number more than 30,000. 

The mountain’s peak is over 5,000m high. Rising from the shores of the Caribbean, the lower plains are clad in tropical forest, turning to open savannah and cloud forest higher up. To the Indians, the Sierra Nevada is the heart of the world. It is surrounded by an invisible ‘black-line’ that encompasses the sacred sites of their ancestors and demarcates their territory.

 

ORIGINS

Their culture predates the arrival of the Spanish and they live simply, high on the sides of the mountains. They call themselves the “The Older Brothers”. They believe Sierra Nevada is the heart of the world, and their duty is to protect it. They believe they have a mystical wisdom and understanding which surpasses that of others. For them the rest of us are the “Younger Brothers”.

The Older Brothers believe it is their responsibility to maintain the balance of the universe. When there are hurricanes, droughts, or famines around the world it is said they are the cause of human failure to keep the world in harmony. Balance is achieved by making offerings to the sacred sites to give back to the earth what is taken out of it.

 

LIFESTYLE 

The Arhuacos don’t use cars, just “mulas” (donkey), and rely mainly on subsistence agriculture, raising livestock and harvesting fruit, vegetables, wheat and corn. Coffee is cultivated for commercial purposes only along with Arhuaca Mochilas (handmade bags, fashionable among both males and females in Bogota and other major Colombian cities), and other arts and crafts to exchange in the lower lands for products unavailable in the high lands. They also raise chickens, cattle, sheep and goats. Men produce entirely the traditional clothing, but nowadays they also use modern clothing.

Men make their own clothes and women weave the wool Mochila bags. The Mochila bags are especially woven by wives for their husbands and other family members. The more intricate and complex the patterns and texture of a Mochila the weaver holds a higher status in the community. 

 

 

COSMOLOGY

The Arhuacos are a profoundly spiritual people who follow their own unique philosophy that tends to globalize their surroundings. They believe in a creator or "father" named Kakü Serankua, who engendered the first gods and material living things, other "fathers" like the sun and the snowy peaks and other "mothers" like the earth and the moon.

Nature and society as a unity are ruled by a single sacred law, immutable, pre-existent, primitive and survivor to everyone and everything. The material world can exist or cease to exist but this law is believed to continue without being altered.

This universal law Kunsamü is represented by a boy, Mamo Niankua. This law of nature is an explanation to the origins of matter and its evolution, equilibrium, preservation and harmony, that constitutes the fundamental objectives and the reason being of the Mamo; the spiritual authority of the Arhuaco society.

 

 

MAMOS

Spiritual leaders are called Mamos. The Mamo is charged with maintaining the natural order of the world through songs, meditations and ritual offerings.

Each Mamo or Mamü is selected among different candidates. The training begins at a young age and continues for around 18 years. The young male is taken high into the mountains where he is taught to meditate on the natural and spirit world. To become a Mamo, they stay in a cave for nine years while the elders teach them everything they need to know. They specialize in certain knowledge areas such as philosophy, sacerdotalism, medicine and practical community or individual counsellors. Their influence is decisive in their society. In Western culture, the Mamo could be seen as the priest, teacher and doctor, all rolled into one.

 

COCOA LEAF

The coca leaf plays a central role in daily life and is used in offerings and ceremonies. The Arhuacos community have harvested cocoa for over 2,000 years. Each man carries a bag of the leaves, which are chewed to create a mildly stimulating effect. When two men meet, a handful of leaves is exchanged as a sign of mutual respect.

A hollowed-out gourd called a ‘poporo’ contains crushed seashells. A stick is used to transfer the powder to the wad of coca in the mouth – the highly alkaline shells react with the coca to stimulate its active ingredients. Surplus powder is rubbed on the neck of the poporo – over time, this becomes a thick collar.

 

 

ARHUACA MOCHILA BAGS 

The Arhuaco Mochila is a very typical product of the tribe, and these natural cross-body bags are mainly worn by Arhuaco men. The bags are only woven by Wati (Arhuaco women) who possess the skills and wisdom to make a unique gift for their sons or husbands. It is not only the intricate and time-consuming technique that make them so special, but the ancient traditions and symbolism that they represent. 

The human story of each Mochila, combined with a spiritual and cosmological meaning, gives each one extra appeal. An Arhuaco woman will record her thoughts in the woven patterns, and this keeps her close to her husband for life. Each Mochila takes between 30 and 60 days to perfect, using the traditional weaving techniques handed down from generation to generation. 

The natural fabric usually comes from sheep wool that the Arhuaca women and children prepare at home. Every few months, when there is a new moon,  the Arhuaca women shear the sheep to make the thread for their Mochilas.  The natural colours and pigments are made from plants, roots, bark and wood from the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta in the north of Colombia. Each design identifies with families, and some of the most important are:

- The Gamako (the frog), the symbol of fertility for the indigenous groups of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta - the Zikamu (the centipede) - the Aku (the rattlesnake) which symbolizes time and space -  the Peynu (the comb) - Kutia (ribs) - Kaku Serankua (the creator of the Sierra father) - Makuru (the vulture) - Gwirkunu (the hills and lakes) - Urumu (the snail) - Sariwuwu (the months of pregnancy) - Kunsamunu a’mia (the thought of women) - Kunsamunu cheyrua (human thought) - Kanzachu (tree leaf) - Chinuzatu (the four corners of the world) - Kambiru (scorpion tail or scribble) - Phundwas (the snowy peaks of the Sierra) and Garwa (the father of the roads).