Photos: Chila Bags

The highly skilled people of the Wayuu people in Northern Colombia are famed for their crochet and one-of-a-kind bags called ‘Mochila’s’. Intending to dig a little deeper into the traditions that surround the culture and the traditional craft, my journey led me to discover some truths about the enigmatic people and their heritage. I furthermore wanted to learn about how designers are empowering the weavers to develop compelling collections with a story to tell.

‘La Guajira ‘

The Wayuu People are an indigenous people spread out through Northern Colombia and Venezuela in an area known as ‘La Guajira’. They are known for their beautiful hand woven products that they have been making for hundreds of years. The area is covered in sandy beaches, and ‘racheros’, which make up the communities where the Wayuu live. The local dialect is wayuunaiki and the people live with complex sets of social structures and leaders who make decisions over land rights, domestic settlements and agricultural issues.

The Technique

The incredible bags are both rich in technique and in storytelling. The bags are composed a circular base, where the ‘mochila’ is structured upon. Quite unbelievably, the bag is often only made with one continuous thread (sometimes two) which is crocheted very tightly to produce a very unique fabric. Perhaps more incredibly, is that the bags are woven without a preconceived design or pattern to follow. Instead, women instinctively weave, using their cultural and historical landscape to inform their decisions. For instance, nature or animals that surround her might inspire a weaver. Often, the combination of bold colour and strong geometric motif is a manifestation of the deep spirituality of the Wayuu people and how they see the world.

Modern Approaches

The beautiful work of the Wayuu people has attracted many designers due to their unique appeal. Sophie Anderson is a designer who has been thrilled by the mochilas and her collections are carried by Matches, Browns and Fenwicks. She has been working closely with local indigenous tribeswomen and artists in Colombia since 2011, and her approach is very organic – she finely adapts the colour and style according to her eclectic eye. Each piece is a combination of modern and antique designs incorporated into a variety of materials and textiles.

Most importantly, is how this project helps support, preserve and promotes the ancestral knowledge of the Wayuu People. Weaving modern design with a deep respect for indigenous artwork is a fantastic way to give communities a voice and to ensure their incredible skills are not lost.