According to the myths of the Wayuu, they received textile craftsmanship as a gift from the gods. A young hunter finds an orphan in the wilderness. Out of compassion he takes her to his village. Her name, she says, is Wolokona. Irunuu, the hunter, lives together with his three sisters. They don't like the fact that he brings the girl to them. When their brother is hunting, they treat Wolokona badly and burden her with the most unpleasant work. So far this could also be a story from the Grimms fairy tales: The evil sisters terrorize their stepsister wherever they can. But despite all the parallels, the legend of the Wayuu did not take place in the European coniferous forests, but in sunny La Guajira, a desert-like peninsula in northern Colombia.
In the course of time Wolokona initially leads a dreary existence under the regime of the three evil sisters, but one night wonderfully glowing yarns float out of her mouth. This is her salvation and at the same time the mythical hour of birth of the mochila wayuú. In order to conquer the heart of the hunter, Wolokona begins to crochet magnificent bags and belts. To this day, Wolokona's craftsmanship – although Wolokona remains a mysterious figure who, because of her skillful handling of the yarns, is also portrayed as a spider goddess – is a model for the young women of Wayuu. At the beginning of puberty, they go through a ritual lasting several weeks during which the older female relatives teach them how to crochet a mochila. The female virtues – Wayuu is, by the way, a matriarchally oriented society in which men adopt the woman's surname – are to be promoted and expressed through this craftmanship.
The fact that the Wayuu, Colombia's largest indigenous group, scattered across the La Guajira peninsula (today numbering around 140,000 people, with a further 170,000 in neighbouring Venezuela), were able to survive, has something to do with the barrenness of La Guajira. When the first conquistadores from Europe landed on the coasts, they realized that there was not much to get and moved on in search of Eldorado to the already more fertile interior of the country. Even today La Guajira is one of the poorest areas of Colombia. The mochilas wayuú are an elementary part of the Wayuu culture. The bags have a round shape and are "built up" from the ground using a technique similar to crocheting. Depending on the pattern and quality, a single woman works on a mochila wayuú for between two and four weeks.
Text & Photos by Martin Specht
Translated by FOLKDAYS