Indigenous Peoples Venezuelan Population

The Wayuu Peoples

Wayuu (also Wayu, Wayúu, Guajiro, Wahiro) is a Native American ethnic group from the Guajira Peninsula in northern Colombia and northwestern Venezuela. The Wayuu language is part of the Maipuran (Arawak) language family.

The Wayuu have been for centuries in the Guajira Peninsula, and they are considered to be great artisans and merchants, tireless fighters for their historical rights, which have been violated by discrimination and racism.

Some describe the Wayuu of the Guajira as a society where the men do nothing and the women do all the work. From the point of view of someone raised in a patriarchal culture, this may seem valid.

In truth, these traditionally nomadic people are matrilineal, that is, name, place in society and property pass through the mother. The desert shapes their beliefs, just as the wind shapes the sands: the Guajira is the land of dreams and death.

Wayuu society is divided into 12 clans, each with its own name, symbol and animal. Not only does this identification pass through the mother, but also the definition of who is Wayuu. In the case of marriages with alijuna (non-Wayuu), the child is only Wayuu if the mother is.

The Wayuu tribe has a number of ancient traditions and rituals that they keep alive, living in small isolated communities, out of which there are about 10 in the states of La Guajira in Colombia and Venezuela.

In the past, living in these small communities was to avoid mixing goats, cows and crops. They live predominantly in huts called rancherías made of cactus or palm leaf roofs, walls of yotojoro (mud, straw or dry thatch) with basic furniture including hammocks for sleeping and a small fire for cooking.

Each community has a sito or communal place usually called luma or enramada, which is generally an open area with pillars to support a flat thatched roof. These areas are used for social gatherings, events, visits and business meetings. The Wayuu tribe is unique in that the women of the household own the houses and manage the families, while the fathers work with the animals and the land.

Each community has an informal leader who makes decisions; generally these leaders are well-connected individuals who are direct descendants of previous leaders. Often these individuals know both Spanish and the Wayuunaiki language (part of the Maipuran or Arawakan language). Their culture combines legends, myths, stories, traditions and customs.

In the past, the men used to work with the land through farming and agriculture, which is not possible now. These men lack education and many only know the native language of the tribe. This has caused a number of problems, including their resorting to pretty crimes, road blockades, charging tourists taxes on candy, children cutting school and men resorting to alcohol.

Some people believe that the Wayuu tribe is a dead weight of modern society because of these situations. Today the tribe is in search of sustainability; the Uribia tribe strives to use tourism to improve their living conditions, allowing visitors to their community and offering a glimpse of their traditions, cultures and brightly colored festivals.

Bringing visitors to the tribes also offers the opportunity for individuals to sell textiles and ceramics, including the famous Mochila Wayuu backpacks, hammocks and blankets made by the tribal women who are expert weavers and skilled in creating handicrafts.

The indigenous Wayuu tribe has been fighting for their rights for centuries, and now their way of life is becoming a threat through no fault of their own, with Mother Nature destroying their habitat.

What does Guajiro mean?

The term Guajiro is a deformation of the words war-hero and has its origins in the late 19th century, where the peasants of Cuba and Puerto Rico were called to fight against the Spanish crown, for their independence, allied with U.S. troops who gave this “name” to the peasants of the time.

What are the characteristics of the Wayuu Peoples?

The Wayuu are a people of northeastern Colombia and northwestern Venezuela. They have been semi-nomadic (not maintaining permanent homes) for hundreds of years. They existed before the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors, although their precise origins are uncertain.

The Wayuu people are divided into clans. Each clan is composed of several family groups, with leaders who are recognized as princes.

Located to the north (Palaam¸in) in the state of Zulia, Venezuela, it is bordered to the north and east (Palaam¸in s¸ma W¸inpum¸in) by the great Caribbean Sea, to the west (Uuchim¸in) by Colombia and to the south (Wopum¸in) by the municipality of Mara, also in the state of Zulia. Being able to say that La Guajira is the place where Venezuela begins.

The peninsula inhabited by the Wayuu Indians is an ethnic group known for being indomitable fighters to stay in this land of sunshine La Guajira, the Wayuu territory of Arawak origin, who settled in the area to convert their lands. Aborigines who have continued to fight against the odds of time and western culture.

The Wayuu are noble people, bearers of sheets and dunes, builders of their own culture, born from the same experiences of their people, with their own characteristics rooted in the Guajira desert, constantly punished by the sun’s rays. Inhospitable land for everyone.

What do Wayuu Peoples wear?

Their traditional clothing is striking and distinctive:

  • Women wear long, flowing, ankle-length dresses. They fit loosely and are therefore cool in the hot weather. They also protect the skin from the sun.
  • The men are often tall and slender, with strong limbs. Their traditional loincloths are sometimes decorated with bright tassels and pompoms. They also wear pompoms on their sandals as a sign that may indicate their rank as a prince.

When they go to town, they wear simple cotton shirts and pants, as do other city dwellers in the warm climates of South America.

What do Wayuu Peoples eat?

Corn and products made from cornmeal are part of the staple diet. Protein is obtained from fish caught in the coastal waters of the peninsula. Turtles sometimes provide a source of protein and are considered a delicacy.

On festive occasions, meat (usually goat meat) is grilled over simple open fires. Some Wayuus also keep pigs and chickens.

Do Wayuu Peoples go to school?

Missionaries were the first to provide education to the Wayuu Peoples. The early efforts focused on the abilities of reading and writing, but this has been changing over the recent decades, as more Wayuu have migrated to the cities, where education is more widely available.

Many young Wayuus do not go beyond elementary school. Others may have only a few years in elementary school without completing it.

Those who have moved to the cities may complete secondary school. Parents who stay in isolated villages feel it is important for young people to survive in that environment. For them, education does not mean going to school, but learning to forage, hunt or fish; to build simple shelters; and to weave.

What do Wayuus do for a living?

For centuries, Guajiros have dived for pearls around Cabo de la Vela. They have also mined salt on land traditionally owned by them. Much of this land was taken over by the Colombian government, which then hired the Guajiros as paid labor.

Guajiros generally do not like long, regimented working hours. They are accustomed to working in a freer pattern and working enough to meet their basic needs. Family members often share the same shift in a single job.

Some Guajiros have found work in the coal mines, as Colombia has rich coal deposits in the region. Others work in the oil-rich Maracaibo area of Venezuela.

Recreation and Relationships of Wayuu Peoples

Locals enjoy local radio and television programs and go to movie theaters. But the aspect of popular culture most enjoyed by people living in the Caribbean is carnival.

The Wayuus enjoy fiestas and carnivals as much as anyone else. The best known festival in Guajira is the annual event in Uribia.

The Wayuus come in full regalia. Women wear jewelry and colorful flower dresses, their faces dramatically painted with ceremonial paint. In Uribia, they mingle with other (non-Guajiro) peoples living along the coast, enjoy the dancing and admire the ceremonial elegance of the Wayuu.

Greetings can be very friendly and enthusiastic. When guests arrive, the hosts hang extra hammocks so that visitors can spend time with them and spend the night if necessary. Then the hosts will ask the visitor, “What news do you bring, waré?”

Waré (friend) is expected to provide news about family and friends.

Crafts and Art of the Wayuu Peoples

Weaving, jewelry making and making musical instruments such as flutes and drums are part of Guajiro life. Their hammocks are well known and are now sold in coastal towns. The women make their own dresses. Their specific cut and choice of floral prints are much admired. The Guajiros also make canoes and basic fishing equipment such as nets, rods and spears.

Where are the Wayuu Peoples located?

The Wayuu inhabit the arid Guajira Peninsula that straddles the border between Venezuela and Colombia, on the coast of the Caribbean Sea.

Two main rivers flow through this largely hostile environment: the Ranchería River in Colombia and the El Limón River in Venezuela, both of which represent the main source of water, along with artificial ponds designed to hold rainwater during the rainy season.

Their territory has equatorial climatic seasons: a rainy season from September to December, which they call Juyapu; a dry season, known by them as Jemial, from December to April; a second rainy season called Iwa from April to May; and a long second dry season from May to September.

History of th Wayuu Peoples

History tells that the Wayuu ethnic group was never subdued or dominated by the Spanish conquistadors, the two groups were in a more or less permanent state of war.

It is also said that different uprisings took place in 1701 (when they destroyed a Capuchin mission), 1727 (when more than 2,000 natives attacked the Spaniards), 1741, 1757, 1761 and 1768. In 1718, Governor Soto de Herrera called them “barbarians, horse thieves, worthy of death, without God, without law and without king”.

Of all the indigenous peoples in the territory of Colombia, they were unique in having learned the use of firearms and horses.

In 1769, the Spanish captured 22 Wayuus to put them to work building the fortifications of Cartagena. The Indians’ reaction was unexpected. On May 2, 1769, in El Rincón, near the Río de la Hacha, they set fire to their village, burning the church and two Spaniards who had taken refuge in it.

They also captured the priest. The Spaniards immediately ordered an expedition from El Rincón to capture the Indians. This force was led by José Antonio de Sierra, a mestizo who had also headed the party that captured 22 Guajiro. They recognized him and forced his party to take refuge in the priest’s house, which they then set on fire. Sierra and eight of his men were killed.

This success soon became known in other areas of Guajira, and more men joined the revolt. According to Messía, there were 20,000 Indians in arms at the peak. Many had firearms acquired from English and Dutch smugglers, sometimes even from the Spanish. This allowed the rebels to take almost all the settlements in the region, which they burned.

According to the authorities, more than 100 Spaniards were killed and many others were taken prisoner. Many cattle were also taken by the rebels. The Spaniards who could took refuge in Rio de la Hacha and sent urgent messages to Maracaibo, Valle de Upar, Santa Marta and Cartagena. Cartagena sent 100 troops. The rebels themselves were not unified.

Sierra’s relatives among the Indians took up arms against the rebels to avenge his death. The two groups of natives fought at La Soledad. That and the arrival of Spanish reinforcements caused the rebellion to fade, but not before the Guajiro had regained much territory.

In the early 2000s, constitutional reform in Venezuela allowed representatives of indigenous (native) peoples to serve in Congress. This is an important step forward. But it is still too early to know what effect this will have on the Guajiros and their problems. These have to do mainly with changing lifestyles and the growing differences between people living in the cities and rural people who continue to live in poverty.

How did the Wayuu Peoples begin?

The Wayúu language called Wayuunaiki is part of the Maipuran (Arawak) language family. The word Wayúu itself means person or people. Community relations are one of the strongest characteristics of this ethnic group. The Wayuu are excellent storytellers.

Evangelization Process

The evangelization process of the Wayuu people restarted in 1887 with the return of the Capuchin friars under Reverend Friar José María de Valdeviejas. In 1905, Pope Pius X created the Vicariate of La Guajira with Friar Atanasio Vicente Soler y Royo as the first vicar, in an attempt to “civilize” the Wayuu people.

The friars then created orphanages for Wayuu children beginning with the La Sierrita orphanage, built in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountains in 1903, followed by the San Antonio orphanage, located along the Calancala River, in 1910, and the Nazaret orphanage in the Serranía de Macuira in 1913.

Creating a direct influence over the rancherías of Guarrachal, El Pájaro, Carazúa, Guaraguao, Murumana, Garra Patamana and Karraipía, with Nazareth exercising some control over the rancherías of Taroa, Maguaipa, Guaseipá and Alpanapause.

The friars constantly visited the settlements inviting the Wayuu to attend mass. The Wayuu children in the orphanage were educated with traditional European customs. Conflicts between the Wayuu and the Colombian government diminished since then. In 1942, Uribia celebrated Christmas and New Year’s Eve for the first time.

Demographics of the Wayuu Population

According to a 1997 census in Colombia, the Wayuu population was approximately 144,003, representing 20% of the total Amerindian population of Colombia and 48% of the population of the department of La Guajira.

The Wayuu Peoples occupy a total area of 4,171 square miles (10,800 km2) within approximately ten indigenous reservations, eight of which are located in the south.

According to the 2001 Census, the Wayuu population in Venezuela totaled 293,777 inhabitants or indigenous people of this ethnicity, populating the city of Maracaibo alone with 60,000 people, making this the largest Wayuu ethnicity in Venezuela.

The Wayuu communities are not evenly distributed within these territories, as their population is mainly concentrated on the outskirts of settlements such as Nazaret and Jala’ala, in the plains of Wopu’muin and Uribia, and within the municipalities of Maicao and Manaure, where population densities are some of the highest on the peninsula.

In the driest months of the year this ethnic group or a large part of it begins a pilgrimage to other lands in search of work and welfare, crossing borders and reaching Venezuela, specifically Maracaibo in search of new good for their livelihood, here it is noted that the distribution will depend on the season and climatic changes that occur.

Once the rainy season begins, these Wayuu tend to return to their homes on the Colombian side. The Wayuu refer to themselves simply as “Wayuu” and do not recognize the term “Indian”, preferring the term “people”.

They use the terms Kusina or “Indian” to refer to other indigenous ethnic groups, while using the term Alijuna (which essentially means “civilized”) to refer to outsiders or people of European descent.

Language of the Wayuu Indigenous People

The Wayuu language, called Wayuunaiki, is part of the Arawak language family prevalent in different parts of the Caribbean. There are slight differences in dialect within the region of La Guajira: northern, central or southern zones. Most of the younger generation is fluent in Spanish, but understands the importance of preserving their traditional language.

The Wayuu language, or Goajiro (Wayuu: Wayuunaiki), is spoken by 305,000 indigenous Wayuu people in northwestern Venezuela and northeastern Colombia on the Guajira Peninsula. Wayuu is one of the main Arawak languages. There are minimal differences depending on the region of La Guajira in which the speakers live.

Most of the younger generations are fluent in Spanish. The extinct Guanebucan language may actually have been a dialect of Wayuu.

Less than 1% of Wayuu speakers are literate in Wayuu, while 5 to 15% are literate in Spanish. There are 200,000 speakers in Venezuela and 120,000 in Colombia. Smith (1995) reports that a mixed Guajiro-Spanish language is replacing Wayuu in both countries. However, Campbell (1997) could not find information on this.

Important aspects of the Wayuu Society

Children are born at home, with the assistance of the mother-in-law or the closest female relative. Priority is given to the welfare of the child as women prefer to feed the children first and follow strict diets when the survival of the children is not assured.

Puberty is not very important among boys, but girls are exposed to rituals from the age of 12 or when they start menstruating, forcing them to go through a period of seclusion of between two months and two years. The girl is forced to shave her head and rest in a chinchorro, which is like a large hammock hung near the house.

They are also fed a pure vegetable diet, called by them Jaguapi, and girls must also bathe very frequently. The younger girls, or rather the girls who enter puberty, are taught feminine tasks typical of the Wayuu culture such as sewing, weaving, cooking, wifery and other feminine matters, including birth control and pregnancy.

Women play an important role in society, but it is not completely matriarchal. The Wayuu want their women to be wise and mature. Almost all marriages are arranged and accompanied by a dowry, which is given to the mother’s brothers and uncles. (See Article: Kikapu)

Girls are betrothed to clan men from the age of 11, around the time they are of childbearing age. The perceived intention is to marry her off to a man before risking pregnancy out of wedlock or by agreement, a cause of great social shame, specifically to the honor and credibility of the woman’s family. Men may have multiple wives (polygamy).

The Wayuu believe that the life cycle does not end with death, but continues the relationship with the bones. Burials are very important. The relatives of the dead act in a certain way: first, the body is buried with their personal belongings; after five years, the bones are exhumed, placed in pottery or in a chinchorro (hammock) and reburied in the clan cemetery.

Religion, Beliefs and Myths of the Wayuu People

Although the Wayuu gradually became Catholic, some beliefs and practices from earlier times persist. Each clan has a symbol, generally drawn from the animal world. It represents certain virtues and traits with which the clan identifies itself.

This symbol is generally understood by outsiders as a totem. This means that the power, hopes and virtues that the clan considers valuable are expressed by the choice of the symbol. Sometimes this symbol is tattooed on a person’s arm.

Religious life for the Wayuu is a mixture of Catholicism and traditional beliefs. These include a different vision of the future life. The cape at the head of the Guajira peninsula, called Cabo de la Vela (the Cape of the Sail), is called Jepira by the Wayuu. They consider it a sacred place because they believe that Wayuu who have passed away still roam there.

The Wayuu clan records its origin with this poetic myth: “We were born of the Northeast Wind and the Goddess of Rains”. Winter is thought to be the brother of the Goddess of Rains, and winter is appreciated by all Wayuu Indians because it brings life-giving rains.

The central figure of the Wayuu religion is Maleiwa (God) creator of everything, of the Wayuu and the founder of society. Pulowi and Juya, spiritual beings, like demigods, are a married couple associated with procreation and life, where Pulowi is the female figure related to the wind and dry seasons, and Juya the male, is a nomad and related to hunting who is seen as a powerful killer. Wanülu represents the evil spirit of sickness and death.

Wayuus who have migrated to the cities have become more involved in the religious celebrations and festivals of Catholicism. The Wayuu also mark special events in their lives according to their own traditions, especially the Wayuu ceremonial dance known as Chichimaya.

This is a fertility dance that is often performed when a girl reaches adolescence and is considered capable of marriage. The Uribia Festival mixes dances, songs and music of African, Spanish colonial and Wayuu origin.

Cosmology of the Wayuu Peoples

In the Wayuu, the healer or necromancer works mainly as a healer. He has the privilege of having contact with the auxiliary spirit Wanülü, who provides information about diseases and their cure. However, Wanülü has different qualities in everyday life, as shown below. Although male physicians of both sexes, there are more female healers.

To become a necromancer, the iniciation is taught by another necromancer and must pay for it with livestock. When the apprenticeship is completed, the initiation takes place at a public celebration, during which the attending spirit enters the novice’s body.

Although necromancers have better access to the spirit world than non-spirit Summoners, they have little spiritual influence in everyday life.

Within the cosmology, there are several deities: Maleiwa is considered the main god because he created the Wayuu. He is responsible for sending rain, which is therefore a very important task under the prevailing climatic conditions. Mansen notes, however, that he plays a rather despicable role in everyday life, as his name is rarely mentioned.

More frequently, however, are the couple Pulowi, the wife, and Juya, the man. The phenomena of everyday life are divided into the female-male pair of opposites to explain them. Rain is the product of the union of the two, and if it does not rain for a while, Juya visits his wives, who live all over the peninsula.

Juya, however, not only represents the mythical and masculine figure, but also the aforementioned rain phenomenon and broader for the two rainy seasons. Similarly, Pulowi has several meanings that must be differentiated according to the context: So Pulowi can be next to supernatural beings and places where accidents occur.

Pulowi and Juya form opposites, such as light-darkness, up-down, wild field crops or rigid-mobile. Wanülü and Yoluja are other supernatural beings that are closely related to the soul (A’in) of a human being. Wanülülü is responsible for illnesses and injuries, which then must be treated by a necromancer.

He is often seen as a being who hunts people and injures them. In such a case, A’in, also seen as the physical heart, separated from the rest of the body. Death should be understood as the permanent separation of the two. In the Wayuu, there is the notion that with death, the cycle of life is not yet complete, but that a journey to the land of the dead (Jepira) takes place. (See Article: Tojolabal)

The souls of the dead can communicate with the living, then appear in form (Yoluja) or in dreams. An encounter with Yoluja is considered evil because it is considered a connection with Jepira. The mythical place Jepira finds real location reference in Cabo de la Vela, more exactly a single mountain peak, which protrudes from the plain.

If a Wayuu dies, the soul leaves his body and travels to Jepira; the corpse is buried. The dead person, after arriving at Jepira, becomes Yoluja, a recently deceased person who can still be contacted. After a few years, the body is exhumed and the bones are buried in the cemetery of the local matrilineal kinship. This is based on the idea that these relatives will meet again in the afterlife.

After the second burial occurs, Yoluja is transformed into an anonymous wanülu to whom contact can no longer be maintained. Perrin notes that this is likely to happen “to nourish the hope that the local-matrilineal ancestors will be eternally preserved.”

Culture and Customs of the Wayuu People

Many Wayuu babies are not only baptized in the Catholic Church, but also receive a private Wayuu naming ceremony. The Wayuu name is part of the special relationships between family members.

The clan identity comes to the baby through its mother. Similarly, the Wayuu name is usually spoken only by close relatives on the mother’s side. Maternal uncles have special authority and importance.

When Wayuu become adolescents, they are separated for a time. When they reach adolescence, the girls are kept separate from other people and cared for by their maternal aunts. This is to help the girls prepare for married life. For months, the girls must drink specially prepared herbal teas. (See Article: Tzeltal)

The tea is believed to help them get rid of childish attitudes and become more mature. They also improve their skills in crafts such as weaving. This time apart is seen as a rebirth, and each girl receives a new name.

After this, they are ready to go out into the world again, to meet the boys who will eventually become their husbands. At this stage, the girls have a presentation party and the Chichimaya, the Wayuu ritual fertility dance, is performed.

During the dance, which takes place at dusk, a boy takes off his hat and waves it, dancing backwards in a circle, challenging a girl to catch him. The girl has to dance and chase him, trying to step on his feet so that he loses his balance and falls.

Music and Dances of the Wayuu Population

The Wayuu Peoples have contributed their own traditional music and instruments. Their culture directly associates economy and social life with music; as in the case of cattle raising, in which the indigenous people sang to their animals. They also used music for meetings and celebrations, as well as mourning at funerals. The Yonna is the traditional dance of the Wayuu and is used to honor guests.

The Majayura, is the ritual of the “young Wayuu virgin”, in which the female dances towards the male for marriage, while other males perform rhythms with their traditional instruments until the male falls to the ground.

Traditional musical instruments include Kashi, Sawawa (a type of flute), ma’asi, totoy and the taliraai (tubular flute), wootoroyoi (a type of clarinet), among others.

Wayuu Culture Festival

The most important cultural event in the department of La Guajira, in northern Colombia, is held every year sometime between the months of May and June. It is known as the Wayuu Culture Festival and lasts for one weekend. The site of this important festival is the municipality of Uribia, the largest Wayúu settlement in Colombia.

This ethnic group strives to teach and show the world its great cultural richness through a mixture of traditional music, rituals, customs, handicrafts, forums, expeditions and games, all of which have fostered the preservation of ancestral customs, traditions and folklore. Origin of the Festival The history of the festival began in 1984 with the election of the first Wayúu woman (a Majayut).

She decided to make public the essence of her culture through dances, food, games and traditional medicine and music. The first festival was held in 1985 on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of Uribia. In 2006, the festival was proclaimed cultural heritage of our nation.

Festival Activities The Wayúu Culture Festival offers a wide range of activities to suit any preference: Craft Exhibitions Uribia’s central park becomes more than just an exhibition of typical handicrafts; visitors can see exactly how hammocks and backpacks are woven

Wayuu Gastronomy in Festivals

Wayúu women prepare and offer the typical dishes of their cuisine: friche (a dish prepared with chopped sheep entrails that are cooked with salt in a small amount of water and then fried with sheep fat), mazamorra (a corn-based drink), and roast sheep. Children and youth perform the traditions of the culture: awakening, weddings, the dance of the little goat, or Kaulayaa, a carnival in thanksgiving for good harvests and rain.

The Yonna, a special celebration related to material and spiritual matters of the Wayúu, such as offerings, revelations, illnesses, healing, horse racing cheers, etc.

Settlements and Housing of the Wayuu People

A traditional Wayuu settlement is composed of five or six houses that make up caseríos or rancherías. Each caserío is named after a plant, animal or geographical place. A territory containing many rancherías is named after the mother’s surname; that is, the society is matrilineal. The Wayuu congregated in rancherías are usually isolated and far from each other to avoid mixing their herds of goats.

The typical house is a small structure called piichi or miichi, generally divided into two rooms with hammocks for sleeping and storing personal items such as purses or backpacks made of acrylic fiber and ceramics for storing water.

The Wayuu culture is known for handicrafts such as bags or backpacks. There are many styles of backpacks. A susu is a backpack typically 20 cm to 30 cm wide and 35 cm high, which is used to store personal and work objects. Characteristic of the fabrics are decorative patterns inspired by nature and what the culture sees. The patterns have names, including Molokonoutaya, Pulikerüüya, Pasatalo’ouya, Marüliunaya, Antajirasüyaa and many more.

The dwellings are rectangular or semicircular in shape. Near the main house there is a common area called luma or enramada, which is very similar to a living room, but almost outdoors, i.e. more like a porch. Built of six pillars with a flat roof, it is used for daily chores and for attending to visitors and commercial activities. Family members hang their hammocks there for afternoon siesta.

Traditionally, the walls are made of yotojoro a wattle and daub mud, hay and dried reeds, but some Wayuu now use a more modern construction with cement and other materials. The preferred roofing material and wood for yotojoro is the daga cactus (Stenocereus griseus), which the Wayuu call yosú.

The word yotojoro originally referred to the inner reed wood of the yosú cactus. This plant is used for many other purposes: it is planted to create living fences around pastures; young shoots are fed to goats; the fruit (iguaraya) is similar to pitahaya and is a popular food among the Wayuu.

As a result of many factors the demand for yosú as food and wood is at certain times of the year, sometimes there is little fruit, construction material or even scarce for fences. Therefore, it has been proposed to develop techniques for the Wayuu to cultivate it.

Due to the variable supply of yosú wood for construction, other plants are also used, including trupillo or turpío (Prosopis juliflora), jattá (Haematoxylum brasiletto), kapchip (Capparis zeylanica) and kayush (Peruvian apple cactus, Cereus repandus).

The health of the Wayuu depends on where they live. The Wayuu as a whole are in a period of change. Some have migrated to the cities. In the larger cities, such as Maracaibo in Venezuela, there is a Wayuu district.

Even those who do not live permanently in the cities go more often to doctors in the cities and towns. Wayuus who have not migrated to the cities still live in simple circular huts. The construction of traditional houses is done by the community. The whole family lives under one roof, often in small groupings of huts with other members of their clan.

How are the Wayuu socially organized?

Wayuu society has a complex structure, matrilineal and clinical in nature, and has about 30 clans. Each has its own territory and its own totem animal. There are still traditional authorities, and there is a specific form of administering justice, the putchipu figures who are bearers of the word and also to help resolve conflicts between clans.

Within the extended family, the highest authority lies with the maternal uncle, who is talking about all domestic and family problems. Within the nuclear family, children are virtually directed by the mother’s brother and not by their own biological father.

Women play a very important role, they can say that she is the host and the organizer of the clan and they are very active politically in their society, they are also very active and independent.

What is the Political Structure of the Wayuu?

Considering that Wayuus have no hierarchy that organizes them socially, there are many doubts as to how their internal conflicts are resolved. Therefore, from the exact moment they are born they are part of a clan, in which they have to follow norms and rules of the same, then the group is legally in charge of all the members belonging to it, in this way they are structured for their proper functioning as a community.

In this society, adult men become leaders or chiefs of their clan, clearly they are older men who are referred to as ”my old man”, who are mainly in charge of the social affairs of the population and the problems or conflicts that may exist. In addition, they are in charge of protecting the family from external dangers that may exist.

Although generally, as each community solves its problems together, it is almost never necessary for a cacique to deal with them, but they do exist in case of major inconveniences.

Therefore, its political structure is classified into two divisions, the organization of activities that are carried out on a daily basis, where close relatives are responsible for making them work, such as building a house, digging caves or taking water reserves and the other type of organization, which is in which funerals are performed, livestock is taken care of, weddings are organized and conflicts are eradicated.

However, the first type of organization has been disappearing over time, and the communities as associations are responsible for solving or carrying out these tasks.

The social structure of certain Wayuu communities currently allows the presence of the ancestors in a political way, but not in a purely political way. That said, it is common knowledge that the Wayuu are a fairly up-to-date indigenous group that maintains a relationship with the national society, so it is obvious that although they maintain their ancestral culture, they also have the current culture that they have created themselves.

Most of the studies that have been carried out to determine the Wayuu political organization have not taken into account all the variations that they have around the territory, because they determine them as an isolated population (it is not so), which is being affected by the multiple industries or institutions that the State manifests, as if they were forced to make an indigenous culture that must be integrated into the system.

Wayuu Marriage

Marriage is always contracted with a person of another uterine race, with the particularity that it implies, on the part of the man’s parents, the dowry to the woman’s parents.

The Wayuu occasionally practiced polygamy, which is a prestige framework. Within the Wayuu society, women play an important social role.

Sustainability and economy of the Wayuu Peoples

The Wayúu people’s territory is not part of the rainforest ecosystems and they are not a people who base their economic and productive activities on agriculture. In contrast, the Wayúu territory is located in desert ecosystems, dry and arid grazing, fishing and trade are part of the survival of the most important Wayúu people.

Within the vast Wayúu territory makes this a great biodiversity, but do not buy that it reaches the proportions in other regions such as the Amazon or the Choco Biogeographic must be considered and studied properly. In addition, the Wayúu from their herding, gathering and fishing activities, used in many ways the biodiversity within their territory.

Manioc, watermelons, maize and various types of beans are grown on the arable land near the settlement during the rainy season and fruits are also harvested. Rotation and fallowing are unknown, but instead certain plants are burned, the ashes of which increase soil fertility.The main economy consists of keeping and raising horses, goats, mules, cows, pigs, sheep and chickens.

Meat is mainly consumed only on special occasions, while more livestock is sold or used as a means of transportation. The amount of livestock provides information on social status, with livestock, bride paid or compensation in dispute.

To sell cattle, markets are visited in Uribia, Riohacha, Maicao and Paraguaipoa. Handmade products, such as hammocks or woven bags, are also offered. The money earned is used to buy goods such as sugar, coffee, weapons, tools, etc. While fishing continues on the coasts and hunting for different species of birds, wild birds and rabbits, these two sectors play an important subordinate role. role.

Another income opportunity during the dry season is salt extraction and trade, which began even before the arrival of the Spanish.

Other income opportunities can be found near or in the cities, where men often work for construction companies or as truck drivers, while women are hired as domestic helpers, but in most cases are not employed as skilled workers.

Artisanships and Handicrafts of the Wayuu Population

Each Wayuu mother teaches her daughter to knit and crochet, keeping the tradition as alive and vibrant as ever. For the Wayuu, weaving is a symbol of wisdom, intelligence and creativity. As Wayuu girls come of age, they learn to create Wayuu backpacks.

According to legend, the tradition comes from “Wale’kerü”, a spider that teaches the women to weave their creative designs into the Wayuu bags. Each design incorporated into each Wayuu bag is unique to the weaver, and tells a story through the colors, patterns and shapes of the bag.

The weaver takes careful precision in his storytelling, ensuring that the bag is a strong representation of Wayuu culture. Wayuu women work full days while weaving their Wayuu bags and can take up to a full month to complete a single bag.

Today, Wayuu bags have become a means of financial support for the Wayuu, allowing them to preserve their way of life.

The women of the Wayuu tribe are the creators of Mochila. The art of weaving has existed for a long time and is passed down from generation to generation. For the women of the Wayuu tribe it is a privilege to be able to make these backpacks. In the Wayuu culture it is a sign of intelligence, creativity and wisdom.

It is a complicated process. Making a bag can require three weeks of intensive and concentrated work from a Wayuu woman. Mochila’s are made of thick or thin wire. It doesn’t matter much the quality of your bag. When you buy a Mochila, you will almost certainly enjoy your colorful bag for the rest of your life. The bags are strong, beautifully textured, handmade and of wonderful quality.

The Wayuu women receive a certain amount of money for each bag they sell to help and support the mandos in their culture. It is fair trade, so these women along with their community will benefit from this beautiful art of weaving. This is the reason why their art and culture will remain.


Anonymous. (s.f.). Etnias del Mundo. Wayuu: Origen, Historia, Significado, Economia y más.

Daniel D'Amato

By Daniel D'Amato

Daniel D'Amato is a regular Venezuelan who wants to give a glimpse of his country, Venezuela, to the rest of the world.