The Wiwa Backpack of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta

“With the backpack we are indigenous, 
without the backpack we are not indigenous.”

The Colombian backpacks

A traditional product that determines the idiosyncrasy of the indigenous people of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta; and it is that although the diversity in appearance and techniques of manufacture of these handmade Colombian bags is as wide as the motifs embodied in them; in the midst of a wide diversity, there is something that relates the Wiwa backpack with other backpacks made throughout the Colombian Caribbean: the cosmovision.

The Awingui Community of the Sierra Nevada

40 minutes separate Santa Marta from Minca. Another 25 minutes by motorcycle taxi or an hour on foot up the mountain, are necessary to make the journey between Minca and Awingui. There, in a small group of traditional cabins in the middle of mountains full of coffee plantations and bamboo, resides the Awingui community belonging to the Wiwa tribe.

Descendants of the Tayrona and who were entrusted to take care of “The heart of the world”: The Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, the Awinguis have always produced panela and mochilas in the traditional way. In order to obtain a fair price for their products and to make direct contact with the buyers, they created the Awingui cooperative. Their representative Luntana Gil is in charge of revaluing these products in the “World of the little brother”.

What’s his name?

Luntana

Which indigenous community do you belong to?

Wiwas, Awingui Community

At what age do Wiwa women start knitting backpacks?

Depending on one’s age, from 8 to 7 years old, they fall in love with the trade when they see their mothers knitting, they like it and start learning. From the age of 8, from the age of 7 they start to weave.

What is the ritual of the first backpack?

First the girls begin to weave the backpack. When they finish, they first give it to an old man to have him bless it; so that she can continue making more backpacks until the end of her life. Someone accompanies her until she perfects the technique, until she learns everything, such as fique, dyeing, colors, figures. They learn, from the age of 7 they already learn everything, she already has the capacity to make a very beautiful backpack.

What is the importance of inheriting the tradition of the backpack?

The backpack is a tradition that we have as indigenous people. “With the backpack we are indigenous, without the backpack we are not indigenous. So the backpack is an insurance that we have, it’s like having a world above us. A backpack is not just having it, a backpack is when we keep something in it, and it takes care of it for us if we leave it lying around, and it always takes care of our things until we find it again. It’s a lock we have with a backpack.

How many types of backpacks do Wiwas have and what materials do they make them out of?

We have 2 types of backpacks, there is one in cotton in two colors, white and brown and another in fique with animal figures in different colors, they are 4 colors; each one with different fabrics. The backpack has a meaning depending on the figures, because it has the figure, where it comes from. Each backpack has its own teaching; the women can create new figures and from the figure they get their history. Each figure has its history, but they can create new figures based on the old ones.

The fiber comes from the Maguey or Fique, which the members of our community call By. It is a plant very used by the indigenous people of the Sierra and by the coffee growers of the region. Each backpack needs between 24 and 26 leaves of maguey.

What would you like people to know about the mochila?

The time, the delay, there are women who take longer than others, depending on whether they have a baby or not. Making a backpack takes between a month and a month and a half, depending on the woman’s family burden.

In addition to the woman weaving the backpack, the creation of a single piece requires three people in the previous stages. The one who obtains the threads by “scratching”, removing the external membrane from one to one of the leaves of the fique. Then, another person gathers the threads in groups, which after drying, are braided by a third person to obtain the thread that will later be woven by the women.

The value of a Wiwa backpack from the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, besides being a beautiful handcrafted piece, is the representation of the ancestral tradition and the way of interpreting the world of the Colombian indigenous people.

Aventura Colombia takes you to know the entrance door to the beautiful Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta!

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