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The Wayúu Language

The Wayúu language is called Wayuunaiki. The term kusima is used to refer to other indigenous people, and alijuna to designate non-indigenous people, regardless of whether they are white, black or mestizo, in general for the ‘civilized’.

Their language belongs to the Arawak family, some of them speak Spanish. They settle in isolation along the peninsula and mainly around Nazareth, Uribia, Serranía de Jalala, Maicao and Manaure.

parque macuira guajira colombia
parque macuira guajira colombia photo @Tristan29photography

Wayuu Houses

The Wayúu settlements are matriarchal, that is to say, the woman is the one who dominates the family. They are generally grouped into five or six houses, rancherías or pichiipala, inhabited according to kinship through the female line.

The dwelling is very simple and undecorated; valuables are kept in backpacks that are hung up. The kitchen is an independent construction, and there is always a shed (luma) with a thatched roof and columns without partitions in which social life takes place.

The dwellings are rectangular (in Alta Guajira some circular ones can be seen) built with yotojoro (the heart of the cactus) or bahareque. In recent decades, zinc and brick have been introduced. The corrals are located away from the houses.

camarones sff flamingos colombia @Tristan Quevilly
camarones sff flamingos colombia @Tristan Quevilly

Economy

The main production system is livestock, especially goats. Cattle are a way of obtaining prestige and wealth because they are used to obtain more wives and as payment for reparations.

The arrival of industry and construction are changing the traditional forms of subsistence, which was the need to produce manufactured objects and to work as wage laborers during the dry seasons in different industrial regions of Venezuela.

Another traditional way of obtaining money is in the work of the salt mines and informal commerce, which for decades have helped to overcome the precariousness of the territory.

guajira macuira park colombia @historytravelers
Manaure guajira colombia @historytravelers

Social Organisation

The social organization is based on matrilineal classes associated with greater wealth and poverty. Marriage is an economic transaction and polygamy is the representation of economic success.

Except for the last woman, the rest live with their children in separate rancherías and the husband visits them periodically.

There is no political organization and there is no central authority. That is why the problems among them are solved directly, which can cause real quarrels between families. The only social institution or authority is the piache or palabrero, man or woman who receives such powers by illumination.

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guajira punta gallinas colombia

Wayuu Clothing

The typical clothing is very simple, the man uses guayuco or loincloth (less and less used) held by a sash (siira) and always the backpack or susuchón and the hat (mawisa) with symbolic drawings.

The woman’s clothing is very colorful; she wears the guajira blanket or wayusheein (a kind of Arabian djellaba) made of light industrial fabrics that cover her from the sun’s rays, a headscarf, and the kakunas, jewelry that was part of the payment for the marriage.

The attire is complemented with guaireñas or cotizas made with indigenous techniques, which are decorated on top with wool tassels or multicolored threads.

punta gallinas bahia hondita guajira colombia
punta gallinas bahia hondita guajira colombia photo @ Tristan Quevilly

Wayuu Handicrafts

The Wayúu make the most famous handicrafts of La Guajira. Their colorful and well-designed weavings are items that, in addition to being decorative, are part of the usual accessories of their creators. Blankets, backpacks and chinchorros enrich the handicraft inventory, especially in Uribia.

punta gallinas bahia hondita guajira colombia
punta gallinas bahia hondita guajira colombia Photo @ Tristan Quevilly

Wayúu handicrafts are characterized by cheerful tones and vivid colors. The colorful tones that the natives imprint on their handicrafts are a reflection of the artistic character of the women who, from a very early age, learn to weave in the “Encierro” (sutus or papcos) where it is said that “to be a woman is to know how to weave”.

They mainly use cotton as raw material to create their usual products, such as blankets, an essential part of their clothing, and “chinchorros” and backpacks decorated with balls and bangs of the same material that provide them with singular beauty. They also produce espadrilles in fabric and thick rubber floors very resistant and durable known as “guaireñas”.

Music and folklore : La Yonna

In the north, the dance of the yonna or chichamaya stands out, and in the south, vallenata music.

The chichamaya is considered autochthonous and of great significance for the indigenous people. In general, the dance of the kid is a reason to celebrate the arrival of the rains, and parties are held in honor of Mareiwa, the creator God of the Guajiros.

The dance is performed by one or more women and a man; the latter dances backwards to the beat of the drums, and the woman dances forward more serenely, with the aim of knocking the man down. Finally, she makes him fall and those around them celebrate with joy.

The man is dressed with the best garment: the guayuco, and the woman, with the best blanket, the taquiara.

sff parque flamingos guajira colombia
sff parque flamingos guajira colombia – Photo © Tristan Quevilly

The Vallenato

On the contrary, the traditional vallenato rhythm is a native contribution of the southern region, cradle of accordions and minstrels, where the rhythm emanates from the melodious combination of the caja, the guacharaca and the accordion.

The jurisdiction of the municipality of Riohacha has a double pride: accordion music entered and spread through this place, and also Francisco Antonio Moscote Rodríguez, known as Francisco el Hombre, creator of one of the most important folkloric currents in the country, the vallenata music, was born and died in this area.

Rancheria Tourist Days

It is a unique opportunity to learn about the reality, habits and customs of the Wayúu natives; traditions are shared, the Wayuunaiki language is heard and the social distribution of the ethnic group is perceived.

The visit can include the tasting of a plate of friche (typical goat-based dish), prepared in front of the visitor and the delight of a toast with chirrinchi (distilled liquor based on panela). You can buy handicrafts made in the same place and appreciate the dance of the yonna or chichamaya.

The ranchería activity can be done in an afternoon or a day or spend a night sleeping as the natives themselves do.

guajira camarones colombia @dianamarroquing
guajira camarones colombia @dianamarroquing

Myths and legends

Miracle of the Virgin of Remedios

Since May 14, 1663, the miracle performed by the Virgen de los Remedios is commemorated in Riohacha.

According to the version transmitted from generation to generation by the people of Riohacha, this event took place in the natural phenomenon of a violent storm at sea.

In the darkness of the night, between thunder and lightning, in the fury of the wind and rain a multitude of men and women who went crazy with fear and with men full of tears implored mercy to the Virgin of Remedies, this was taken out of the temple and walked through the main streets; her crown was thrown into the sea by the gale, which produced the serenity of the waves. Thus originated the miracle of the Virgen de los Remedios.

Origin of the Macuira Mountain Range

The guajiro myth tells that once upon a time there was a cacique who had a hut in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta from where he could watch the faces of his three sons who lived with him. One night, he dreamed that they were walking away to the north of La Guajira.

This thought haunted him again and again until one night, distressed by the dream, he got up to see if his children were asleep, but they were not to be found. Alarmed, he looked to the north and there stood three imposing peaks. It was his three sons who had given birth to the Macuira mountain range.

guajira macuira park colombia @soycfrancisco
guajira macuira park colombia @soycfrancisco

Provincial Legend

From Tomarrazón, a small town in La Guajira Media, Francisco el Hombre left with his accordion on his chest and went through the dusty trails of the smugglers and traveled the tangle of bridle paths that, in those days, were the only means of communication. From town to town, with his cracked feet, he went seducing women, drinking rum and singing the latest news.

One night, in the comings and goings of his vagabond singing, he found himself face to face with the devil and, with no other alternative, he had to fight for his soul in an accordion duel. The Credo, played backwards, decided the contest in favor of Francisco el Hombre. Since then, piquerías are the most emotional way to judge who is the best accordion player.

Jagged Vagina Myth

It is a myth about the origin of the Wayúu ethnic group that says: At that time, women were considered semi-goddesses, they had their vaginas with teeth and there was no way of human reproduction.

Wolunka, daughter of the goddess Mareigua one day when she was bathing intimately in a well was discovered by two twins who with an arrow knocked down the teeth of her vagina; at the same time, all the other women were detached.

The action made it possible to conceive children and it was Wolunka who was the first to give birth to a daughter. From then on, the Wayúu began to reproduce.

Wayuu Gastronomy

In La Guajira, the main gastronomic tradition is the goat, prepared in different ways, being the most famous dish the friche. Due to its proximity to the sea, it is rich in a variety of fish and seafood that attracts visitors and seafood lovers to taste the freshest and most appetizing typical dishes.

Friche is the most famous of the Guajira dishes; it is prepared with young and tender goat legs and ribs, with the animal’s blood and offal. It is seasoned with garlic and finely chopped onions and green paprika, lemon, salt and pepper to taste.

All the ingredients are mixed and sautéed, and then left to cook over low heat, stirring the mixture constantly. It is served with a corn bun or clean bun.

Other dishes are: shrimp rice, chorizo rice, chipichi rice (seafood), stingray salad, chichigüare arepa (fried tender corn arepa), canchafa arepa in machobayo (ground corn arepa, roasted in an almond tree banana leaf and finally grilled).

The dishes are accompanied by drinks such as corn chicha, loquat juice, iguaraya, wild cherry and canned grape juice.

Desserts are equally varied and include the traditional coconut cocada (coconut candy), dulce de leche de Monguí, bolitas de leche, icaco candies, sesame, corn, green papaya and other delicious desserts such as grapefruit and potato candy.

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