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.
The Wayuu People
The Wayuu people are an ethnic group of the La Guajira Peninsula in northern Colombia and northwest Venezuela. In Colombia, the Wayuu live in the Guajira desert straddling on the Caribbean Sea coast. The Wayuu have their own language called Wayuunaiki. It is art of the Arawak language predominant in different parts of the Caribbean. The Wayuu not only produce one of the most complex crochet and textile techniques in our planet, they are also know for preserving their rituals, celebrations to death and heritage. There is a huge background of the Wayu culture that expands beyond its colourful crocheted Mochilas bags, beautiful woven hammocks, rare shrouds and the Si’ira, which in the traditional Wayuu dress, is the best that keeps the male loincloth in place.
A “Ranchería” refers to a small, rural settlement or huts in the Alta Guajira where families of a 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 use to get up before down, 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 there (at the huts) eats with his or her fingers. The household chores are done in the early morning: the slaughtering and the grinding of corn for “chicha” a fermented corn drink which forma n important addition to the meals.
Some, but not all of the children, in la Guajira attend to small government school that are usually at half an hour’s to an hour walking distance.
Weaving and trading
Some families rely entirely on crafts for their income. The Wayuu make all kind of handcrafted products for their own use as for trade. They buy yarn in bulk and subcontract work to their other families in advance. Some Artisans employ people to work for them at their house.
Wayuu artisans prepare the warp for a large hammock themselves, a skilled work not all Wayuu women can do. Some families sell their work to another Wayuu leaders (women) who collect crafts and sell them to travellers or send the items to the capital city. Girls for a early age learn craft techniques that are applied in the making of household goods: crocheting to make bags, embroidery to decorate the manta (dress) sprang (Egyptian pleating) and twigging for making a simple hammocks, and sometimes even to make pottery.
In the past the Wayyu women only made their handicrafts for their own use. Nowadays there is a growing interest in their work for outside their cultures.
The Hammocks are the most important textile products. There are two kinds of hammocks: one 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 deal of variety in the Wayuu crocheted work. There are “Mochilas”, crocheted bags, in al 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 call the “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 worn, 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 buried with the cacique.
All the pictures showed 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 Arhuaca People
The Arhuaco people are an indigenous people of Colombia. They are Chibchan-speaking COMUNITY 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.
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 s to protect it. They believe that 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 that 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.
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.
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 counselors. 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.
ARHUACA MOCHILA BAGS
The Arhuaca Mochila are the most representative item of the Arhuaco people. These organic and 100% natural cross-body bag are mainly worm by male member of the Arhuaco people. The bags are only woven by Wati (Arhuaco women) who posses the energy and the wisdom to make a unique creation for his husband. It is not only the intricate and time-consuming technique that make them so special, but its ancient traditions and symbolism that they represent. The human story unknown on each bag and the spiritual and cosmological meaning the made do expands beyond its aesthetic appealing. The Mochila allows women to record their thoughts in them and keep them in connection with her husband for all their lives. Each Mochila takes her between 30 to 60 days to finish, using ancient traditions. A authentic Arhuaco man only uses the Mochila that his mother or wife has woven specially for him.
The authentic fabric usually comes from sheep wool that the Arhuaca women and children make at home. Every 4 moths, in new moon, the Arhuaca women shear the sheep to make the threat for their Mochilas. the process is time consuming as they have to make the threat and the spinning into a yarn.
The natural colours and pigments are made from plants, roots, bark and wood from the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. Originally Mochilas were woven only with natural fibers from their lands, such as fique and cotton. Later the Spanish introduced sheep's wool. The bags usually carry indigenous drawings or representations of animals and other objects of their cosmology.