Our latest collection of colourful Colombian bags, belts and straps have been causing quite a stir. No sooner do they come into stock, they fly straight out again. They also star in You Magazine in a feature focusing on successful independent brands. Naturally, The Small Home was delighted to be invited to take part!
Behind these beautifully-woven pieces there is a captivating story of creativity and courage. Here we take a look at the rich heritage of the women of the Wayuu tribe who are weaving themselves – and their children – a bright future.
One of Colombia’s most famous artisan exports are the beautiful and colourful crochet works created by the women of the Wayuu tribe. Their popular Mochila bags are admired by celebrities such as Shakira, Sienna Miller and Rachel Weisz, as well brands such as J. Crew.
The Wayuu Tribe has a complex history of surviving in challenging circumstances. Now their hope of economic survival could rest on the traditional weaving the women have been doing for generations.
The way of the Wayuu
The Wayuu (pronounced ‘Wah-You’) are an indigenous Latin American people who are nicknamed ‘the people of the sun, sand and wind.’ They live in the desert peninsula of La Guajira, near the borders of Colombia and Venezuela, in groups of five or six huts known as ‘rancherias.’ These huts have cactus or palm-leaf thatched roofs; walls made of mud, hay or dried cane; and contain a small fire pit for cooking, plus hammocks for sleeping. In these small settlements the Wayuu people hand down traditions and culture from generation to generation.
Women front and centre
Wayuu women are firmly at the centre of family and cultural life. The Wayuu operate a matrilineal clan system which means women own the property and hand it on to their daughters. Traditional skills are also handed down from mother to daughter. Additionally, children take their mother’s last name.
Weaving is wisdom
A popular Wayuu saying is: ‘To be a woman is to know how to weave.’ Weaving is highly-respected within the community as a symbol of intelligence, wisdom and creativity. In fact, learning how to weave the traditional Mochilas bags is an important rite of passage when girls come of age. The girls are taught by older female relatives how to hand stich the intricate geometric patterns that typify their traditional designs.
Each bag tells a unique story
Each design is unique, a personal story told by the weaver which describes their clan, their culture, their dreams and details of their daily lives. This means no two Wayuu bags are ever the same. A bag with a complex pattern can take a month to complete; the more elaborate a piece, the more valuable it is. The traditional Mochilas are crocheted from the fibre of the maguey cactus but other yarns are also used, including acrylic thread.
Weaving a lifeline
Every year millions of high-quality products are made and sold across the globe including: hammocks, blankets and bag straps, clothes, hats, jewellery, keychains, wall rugs, pillowcases and of course, Wayuu bags. As well as being vibrant and contemporary accessories, these also offer a much-needed lifeline preserving cultural skills and traditions and supplying vital financial support for the women of the Wayuu.