I just got back from a paradigm shifting, mind altering, completely incredible life experience.
I spent a few days visiting, studying and donating resources to the Wayuu tribes and clans of La Guajira Colombia.
If you have never heard of La Guajira I will throw some knowledge on:
La Guajira is a region of Colombia ( NOT Columbia please it will legit throw my OCD for a tailspin) on the Caribbean Sea, directly bordering Venezuela. It is most widely distinguished by desert landscapes, giant sea dunes and the remote (and I mean remote we would off road for hours with Wayuu guides to find) rancherias and fishing villages of the indigenous Wayuu people. The capital of La Guajira region is Rioacha (coincidentally I ate the best seafood ceviche of my life there) which boasts a palm lined waterfront, beaches, a boardwalk and numerous craft stalls which serve as the gateway between civilization and the Wayuu nation.
The Wayuu are known as the people of the Sun, Sand & Wind. They arrived from the Amazon rainforest and Antilles in 150 A.D. to escape the hostile environments and find a new home. The Wayuu have battled the Spanish, the Colombian Government and mother nature in ongoing efforts to keep their traditions alive.
The Wayuu occupy about 5,000 square miles within the desert covering a large area in both Colombia and Venezuela. There are about 700,000 Wayuu living today.
The Wayuu are filled with ancient traditions, and rituals that they must conserve and keep alive. They live in small, isolated communities ( I visited several some had toilets and some had out houses enough said). In the past the intent of the Wayuu was to prevent mixing of goats ( which roam rampant throughout La Guajira and totally sound like children so it messed with me for days), cows and crops. They live in huts called “rancherias’ made from cactus or palm leaf thatched roofs, yotojoro (mud, hay or dried cane) walls with basic furniture which includes and is not limited to hammocks for sleeping and cooking fire pits.
The Wayuu tribe fascinates me because the women of the household own the household and run the families, while the fathers work with the animals and land. The Wayuu speak Wayuunaiki (which is a combo of Maipuran and Arawaken languages). Their culture is rich in legends, myths, stories traditions and customs.
The tribe is in search for sustainability. Some feel that by bringing visitors (me) to their community and offering insight into their traditions they can sell textiles and ceramics, including the famous Mochilla bags, hammocks & blankets made by the tribeswomen who are expert weavers and skilled at creating crafts.
I went to La Guajira with Daniella Castellano the founder/ CEO of Castellano Ethnic Origins a Colombian accessories brand that I started working with last year and that I hosted at my Hamptons home last summer. The brand works with the Wayuu women (they have been doing this for 6 years) and they weave the pattern onto many Mochillas big and small and also for leather based goods and bracelets. I was instantly drawn to Daniella’s mission and ethos and with my mother’s mental state dwindling daily I feel very connected to my Colombian heritage and to my roots there. When I first met Daniella I promised her that I would come visit the Wayuu with her and that I wanted to learn more about the tribe and help them feed their children (I am a mother of 3 under 6 after all). I am proud, humbled, grateful and thrilled that I was able to make good on that promise and that I was able to not only spend time with the Wayuu playing with the children and tasting their “Chicha” but I was able to give them clean drinking water and food staples that they would have never been able to ascertain otherwise. Giving back in that sense has been the most incredible form of charity that I have EVER done in my life and I am extremely charitable/philanthropic individual.
I spent a few days in several of the “rancherias” and I certainly felt as if I was traveling back in time. I felt especially concerned/perplexed when we were in Rioacha which is only an hour away from some of these very rural/rustic rancherias. I couldn’t help but to draw a parallel between the modern day Wayuu and the Wayuu that doesn’t know or want to know a world beyond the “rancheria”.
Willful blindness or painstakingly trying to keep a culture alive?!
Stay tuned for what else I did in Colombia on the next Blog Post…..
In the meantime shop Castellano they have the most amazing Colombian Accessories!