Who are the wayúu?

According to the Ministry of Culture (2010), the Wayúu are a traditional, historical and indigenous community known as the people of the Sun, the sand and the wind. They live in the Peninsula of La Guajira, a desert area in the northeast of Colombia. This community has fought with the Spaniards, the Government and the Mother Nature to keep their traditions alive.


The Wayuu tribe has a series of ancestral traditions and rituals that keep alive, living in small isolated communities. They live predominantly in huts called rancherías made with cactus roofs or palm leaves, yotojoro walls (mud, hay or dry cane) with a basic furniture that includes sleeping hammocks and a small stove to cook.


The Spanish chronicles report that the Wayuu had an organized structure in clans, with high degrees of population mobility and practiced hunting and fishing. When the contact with the Spanish culture was given, they adopted grazing and increased the stay time in their places of residence. Commerce became an important factor in its economy and as a mechanism of relationship with immigrant cultures.

After the establishment of the Republic, Catholic missions made presence in the territory. However, Wayuu culture remained strong over the years without being influenced by external cultures or beliefs.


Structure and beliefs

The social organization of the Wayúu people is associated with its cosmogonic principles and modes of mythical representation. Dreams are very important in their daily life since they explain the reality of the collective and prophetic powers are conferred.

The Wayúu society is matrilineal and has approximately 30 clans, each with its own territory and totemic animal. Within the family, the maximum authority corresponds to the maternal uncle, which intervenes in all family and domestic problems, and who assumes the direction of his sister's children more than the biological father. The Wayúu woman is active and independent, she has the role of a driver and organizer of the clan. They are politically active, so the female authorities represent the people in public spaces.

The marriage contracts with a person from another clan, and the parents of the man pay a dowry to the women's parents. "When a woman marries a ring that represents us or a symbol. We marry through the word. Our commitment is verbal and everything we do the Wayuu, we do it through the word" Graciela Cotes, leader of The Wayuu community (Miguel A. Cortés, National Radio, 2017).

Funeral acts constitute one of the most representative ritual acts of the Wayuú people. Tradition mentions that the spirits of the deceased are seen by children and senses for all, and that only until the second burial the dead leaves the earth.



The wayúu are notable for their textile work. The fabric for the Wayúu people is more than a cultural practice and inheritance of their ancestors, it is a way of conceiving and expressing life as they feel and desire it.

You can find fabrics at one and two strands. According to the Colombia.com page, the tissues of a strand are finer, more tight, weigh less and is stronger, so stops are held. On the other hand, two strand fabrics are thicker, heavier and are not supported.

The patterns they use in their tissues are a representation of the natural elements around them. Among the best known reasons are turtle shells, cow's viscera or the fish of the fish.

Each artisan has a pattern that represents it and includes it at the base of the backpacks. Therefore, the same backpack made by two artisans will never have the same base.


This region has lacked access to basic public services and economic resources, presenting high levels of social inequality and extreme poverty that has led them to have an unworthy life. The Wayuu ethnic group is a matriarchal society that depends largely on the trade of traditional crafts for economic sustainability, facing unfair local commercial dynamics, where their work is undervalued, and leaves them without benefits for economic growth. However, the fabric is more than a cultural practice and inheritance of their ancestors because through this activity they express how they feel life.

In addition, 84% of this population is poor. 6 out of 10 indigenous people are illiterate and some children have to walk up to 3 hours to get to school. The infant mortality rate is the highest in the country, with 34 children per 1,000 births. The lack of job opportunities is perhaps the greatest of its limitations, which added to the lack of education and global warming have affected the ability of tribes to create sustainable agriculture, with droughts that threaten the crops and animals that die from desertion.

The Wayúu population has a rich ancestral tradition that has been alive for generations and must remain like this. Therefore, at the Sacred Thread Foundation we work so that women can follow the tradition of weajeduría and keep their families. If you want to see the impact we have generated on families, click here.



Culture Ministry. Republic of Colombia. 200 years. Culture is independence. Wayúu, sand, sun and wind. 2010

Colombia.com (2019) How to identify an authentic Wayúu backpack? Colombia.com. Taken from https://www.colombia.com/actualidad/naciones/como-identification-una-autentica-mochila-mayuu-234292