STENOCEREUS GRISEUS, 'DAGGER CACTUS", Established itself as a primary contributor to many aspects of life for the Wayuu. During its early stages of growth, the robust cactus is called 'yosu'. During this period the plant is typical used for sustenance and living fences for cattle.
After many years, 'xylem' has hardened renaming the cactus 'yotojoro'. The cactus can be used as material for the building of family homes, social enramadas, a kitchen, and other buildings that make up an individual family's rancheria.
The production of usable materials involves the skinning of the cactus, removing each of its ribs to expose the inner core of the cactus. The larger components are saved as columns, branches as cross-bracing, and some larger cores are cut into parts to compose the roof covering.
For hundreds of years, weaving has played an integral role in the lives of the Wayuu. Today, the Wayuu receive much of their cotton from manufactures. However, for many years the Wayuu cultivated their own cotton, providing an ideal material to build important structures called Chinchorros. Each component are similar to hammock, but each have a lineage of their own, that extend to the cyclical nature of life.
Weaving is a practice that is assumed primarily by women of each clan, a way to present identity through making and presentation. Each week woman, now, make a long journey to nearby cities to sell their wares, making cotton the primary provider industry and economy.
The Wayuu people believe to have inherited their ability to weave from Wale’Keru, the spinning spider. Wale’Keru lost her mother when she was very young. Her father worked all day and left her home under the surveillance of his sisters. Wale’Keru’s aunts mistreated her and exploited her for domestic tasks. One day, Wale’Keru’s father woke up and found a beautifully woven cloth by his chinchorro. When he asked who had woven that cloth, his sisters told him they had. This went on for several days. One night, Wale’Keru’s father found Wale’Keru weaving in her dwelling and realized she was the skillful weaver who had been leaving the beautiful clothes by his chinchorro. Ashamed that he had never paid attention to her, he hid from her the next day. A little before dawn, he decided to talk to Wale’Keru and ask her for forgiveness. Perhaps he was too late, for Wale’Keru had turned into a spider and ran away from home, forever.
The legend does not explain how Wale’Keru was able to pass her weaving skills down to other women but the art of weaving has always been seen as practiced by women. Some describe the Wayuu as a society where the women do all the work and the men, nothing. The economics of this culture focus on the art of weaving. Mochilas, Chinchorros, Susus and Mantas, the most renown woven artifacts of La Guajira, provide largely to the economics of the Wayuu people and women are in charge of that commerce, within and outside of La Guajira.
WEAVING AND STRUCTURE
The articulation of the weave's structure reaches the surface of any construction. Everything that is constructed in Wayuu culture involves weaving in one way or another.
Waddle and Daub is a technique that involves the use of clay and interwoven structural elements that when combined create a strong structural wall.
Women select the grounds on which a house is to be built and the man of the family builds the home. He weaves intersecting cactus branches between columns and subsequently begins adding clay or bricks of earth.
While the home built of heavily structured walls, the most prominent structure on the homestead is an enramada. It consists several columns, made of cactus, with large openings in between that allow for chinchorros to be woven. Each chinchorro takes nearly six months to make. With each day that passes, the process of making is a reminder of the cyclical nature of life and aging. The pattern in the cotton screen is the only wall in an otherwise open structure. The structure is the epicenter of social exchange for the family living here. The presentation of patterns evolving represent the family and their clan. The continuing practice represent the nature of heritage passing on, through an oral history, realized through craft.
WOMAN AS CHIEF
The role of women has initiated itself in many practices for the Wayuu. Acting as ambassadors to heritage, women often become the leaders of clans these days. It is true that each woman from a young age learn how to create.
AT THE TIME OF HER FIRST MENSTRATION, THE GIRL IS SUBMITTED TO A TRANSITION RITUAL...SHE IS PLACED INTO A HIGH CHINCHORRO, STRETCHED CLOSE TO THE ROOF OF THE HOUSE...A RECLUSION PERIOD OF THREE OR MORE MONTHS BEGINS WHEN SHE LEARNS WOMEN'S TRADITIONS...SUCH AS WEAVING AND SPINNING.
Openly representing the importance of this tradition occurs often. Since 1985, Wayuu's largest settlement in Colombia, Uribia, celebrated the coming of the first woman. Among the many festivities. A structure like the enramada is quickly set up to present the practice of weaving. While each woman must know the weaving she does over the celebration will likely not get finished, the presentation of practice is paramount to the success of this type of oral history.
As time continues to pass, the presence of men in the community is slowly moving away. Roles typically taken up by men are now being done by women. The role of men is purely agrarian in nature, so their presence also lacks in the classroom. Elementary level education sees a small contingent of men. Later, a room of college students has only 3% men.
Women are the symbolic and foundation of the Wayuu now and into the future.