We commission and source bags from weavers in three distinct indigenous communities in Colombia: the Wayuu tribe, the Arhuaca tribe and the Kankuamo tribe. Each of these tribes produces beautiful handwoven mochilas for us.
The Wayuu, a nomadic tribe located in northeast of Colombia, and the northwest of Venezuela, are the largest indigenous community in Colombia where they inhabit the region of La Guajira. Never conquered by the Spanish, throughout the 17th century the Wayuu fought against occupiers and became known for their strength and tenacity. The Wayuu are best known for the beautifully coloured crochet textiles. Using techniques passed down for centuries from generation to generation, through their creations Wayuu women share their cosmological view of the universe. The passing down of weaving techniques marks a rite of passage. Each of the mochilas have a design of their own, which represents the weaver’s method of keeping traditional Wayuu art and weaving traditions alive. Look out for the bottom of each mochila as they feature intricate symbolic designs chosen by the weaver as a means of self-representation. Unfortunately, as the popularity of these mochilas has increased worldwide, so has the number of machine-made imitations – usually produced in China – although you can usually tell the difference.
The Kankuamo tribe from Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta is located in the northeast of Colombia. The Kankuamo people – estimated to number only around 15,000 individuals – are the least contacted of the tribes living in the Sierra Nevada region. The Kankuamo weave mochilas made of fibres extracted from the fique plant. Once the fibres have been extracted, they are washed and then bleached by the sun. The dye used to add different colourways come from local plants and tree barks, ensuring the whole process is completely organic.
Muzungu Sisters designed their own version of the classic fique mochila in 2013. We designed the Fique pom pom mochila to include brightly coloured pom-pom patterns on the usually subdued plain fique mochilas. We were told by the wonderful Wayuu woman who coordinates the mochila weaving cooperatives that the production of this mochila was the first instance of such inter-tribal collaboration between the Wayuu and Kankuamo tribe.
The Arhuaco tribe in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountain range produces mochilas made of wool. Made from 100% sheep wool, the mochilas are usually coloured in earth tones with black, brown or grey. Although the whole Arhuaco tribe is involved in the production of mochilas, only Wati (Arhuaco women) can weave the bags together according to custom. The women weavers weave symbols of wildlife and nature from their cosmology onto each bag they weave. Traditionally, the women learn to weave from an early age by watching their mothers, and when they are ready to weave their first mochila, this is given to the priest as an offering f or the rituals of the life cycle.
For more information on how to help the indigenous communities of Sierra Nevada please visit Survival International https://www.survivalinternational.org/tribes/sierraindians