Ancient handcraft helps preserve culture, lifeline in Colombia

World Today

Ancient handcraft helps preserve culture, lifeline in Colombia

Wayuu is an indigenous tribe in Colombia. Their handmade bags produced by its female members are the primary source of income for the tribe. They have also become a fashion fad in major cities around the world. while the Wayuu Bags may be “trendy” accessories for upscale shoppers, the life of the Wayuu community is far from glamourous.

CCTV America’s Toby Muse reports.

Ancient handcraft helps preserve culture, lifeline in Colombia

Ancient handcraft helps preserve culture, lifeline in Colombia

Wayuu is an indigenous tribe in Colombia. Their handmade bags produced by its female members are the primary source of income for the tribe. They have also become a fashion fad in major cities around the world. while the Wayuu Bags may be "trendy" accessories for upscale shoppers, the life of the Wayuu community is far from glamourous. CCTV America's Toby Muse reports.

Follow Toby Muse on Twitter @tobymuse

La Guajira, or the badlands, are the baking deserts are home to crime, smuggling and poverty. The tiny desert settlement of Atpanasira is in one of the hamlets that produces its most beautiful export: the mochila. Mochilas are handcrafted bags made by wayuu women Indians.

“These are important because it is the cultural legacy we pass on generation to generation,” said Nerita Epinayu, an indigenous woman of Atpanasira. “They teach us this when we become women, just as our mothers and grandmothers and all our ancestors were taught.”

The bright distinctive designs are inspired by the women’s dreams. These dreams have now become fashionable across the world.

Out on the streets of Riohacha, La Guajira’s largest city, wayuu women sell their bags to the trickle of tourists. If the women sell directly to a tourist, they can earn around $30 for each bag.

If they sell in bulk to the retailers, the bags can go for as little as $10. The real money, however, is made abroad. These same mochilas can be sold for as much as $150.

“This is bad. They take these bags from here. We feel frustrated that here the bags sell here for 10 dollars and sell for a lot more abroad. This is what we live off, this is how we survive. With these we eat, and we don’t have anything else.” – Concepcion Uriana, indigenous woman of Atpanasira

While the bags are popular in the world’s cosmopolitans, from Paris to New York, where they come from is much more brutal. Little of those dollars are seen where the bags are made. In fact, the wayuu live in crushing, fatal poverty.

All of Colombia’s institutions have let the wayuu down – from corrupt local leaders to a central government that has a minimal presence in the zone.

“I think there’s a shared blamed for many actors. From the most basic, the local leaders in the region, from way back, to governors of La Guajira. And without doubt the national government – all have their share of the responsibility,” said Andres Garcia of the Ombudsman’s Office of Colombia.

Garcia fears that the region is set to suffer even more. A drought is likely to intensify later this year, killing farmstock and ravaging the few crops that can grow there.

With such hardships, the bags have become even more important in maintaining a culture in the desert. Long after the bag has stopped being the latest fashion accessory, in the desert the women will continue to sew.