Wayuu: The Venezuelan Guajiros

Wayuu Indians are very numerous in northern Venezuela, and some communities live in Colombia as well. They are often called by their other name Guajiro, which is probably of Spanish origin. This name was given to the Wayuu tribe since the peninsula they live in the Caribbean Sea is called La Guajira. The number of Wayuu tribe is estimated at 100,000 but since the tribes live in two countries exact data does not exist. During the colonization, the Wayuu were never conquered by the Spanish due to their cunning ability to learn how to use contemporary weapons.They event often attacked colonist settlements in retaliation for Spanish crimes and burned them to the ground. The Wayuu live in savanna like region with precipitation periods twice a year. This kind of climate influenced their way of life; since if the rains do not come on time, people and animals suffer. Wayuu settlements are usually several kilometers away from each other, so people live in small communities.

Miichipala (place of houses) is a group of houses with families who share a common water source. The number of people in miichipalas varies from 10-20 to several hundreds. Inside them, you can find a small kitchen and of course, hammocks. Wayuu houses have roofs and often a small porch for entertaining guests. Around miichipalas, a fenced garden and animal boxes are situated. Since next miichipala is kilometers away, large areas of Wayuu land are uninhabited. In the past, Wayuu were probably hunters and gatherers. However, in the early time of colonization, the Wayuu saw the value of livestock so they quickly obtained cattle from the whites, sometimes even by force. The result of this long-term thinking is the pastoral way of life that all of Wayuu lead. The major income of Wayuu is their cattle, goats, sheep and cows. Since grazing land is very important, private land for Wayuu does not exist. Several decades ago, Wayuu were famous for keeping horses for transport but today the Wayuu like to drive cars instead. In addition to cattle, the Wayuu make money by weaving exquisitely decorated hammocks, bags and belts (women’s activities) as well as sandals and rugs (men’s activities).

In Maracaibo and along the La Guajira peninsula you can find local markets where the Wayuu sell their woven handicrafts, but lobster, salt and pearls as well. Wayuu Indians are organized into clans called eiruku, based on the maternal line. It is very important for Wayuu to know to which clan a person belongs to, so that in case of marriage, death or any conflict, the right clan can be compensated. In Wayuu marriage, the setting of bride price depends on the bride’s ability to weave and trade. Children of all members of the tribe are tended to with great care, and it si customary for girls to help with housework and for boys to help with livestock chores. Every miichipala is run by an elder or a chief. It is his duty to oversee all daily activities in the house and with livestock. In case there is a conflict in the tribe, the Wayuu believe in a peaceful solution so every situation is settled through mediators and payments in money and livestock.

The Wayuu believe in Juya and Pulowi, a husband and wife who rule the world. Juya, who is male is the hunter and Pulowi, the female, is the owner of animals. The Wayuu also believe in supernatural beings, and that the ghosts of the dead can bring illnesses, nightmares and bad luck. The most important parts of Wayuu spiritual life are funerals. It is believed that, when a person dies, he leaves his material body and then comes back to Earth in the form of rain (since rain brings new life to the nature around them) or in the form of an illness. Since the Wayuu believe in the dual nature of things, two funerals are prepared for every person who dies. Another fact in Wayuu life is that almost 80% of shamans (healers) today are women. A special and important part of Wayuu culture is songs. They are sung in every occasion (everyday work, wedding, funeral, etc. ) and they can last for hours, which serves as a test of endurance. Yonna dance, which centers around the beat of a drum, is the most common way of celebration.

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4 Responses to Wayuu: The Venezuelan Guajiros

  1. cheryl says:

    they also believe it is ok to rape children, evidence of 10 year old giving birth and not the first one from this tribe. a 10 year old may of had her period but that doesnt make it safe for her to have children as her birth canal cant even pass the child.


    • fabiola says:

      They don’t believe that rape is okay it says right in the article that the families of the boy and girl feel that sex was consensual. I agree ten years is too young but it is very uncommon. Furthermore, this article speaks of Venezuealan Wayuu

      • fabiola says:

        Venezuelan Wayuu not Columbian as mentioned in the article you posted and from my experience Wayuu from Columbia very from Wayuu of Venezuela

  2. fabiola says:

    Excellent article though I wish you could have described the funerals more. My family is Wayuu and mourning is definitely the most interesting thing about our culture

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