The Wayuu are known as the people of the sun, sand, and wind. They inhabit the arid Guajira Peninsula straddling the Venezuela-Colombia border, on the Caribbean Sea coast. Two major rivers flow through this mostly harsh environment: the Rancheria River in Colombia and the El Limón River in Venezuela representing the main source of water, along with artificial ponds designed to hold rain water during the rain season.
Their aproximate popualtion is 293,777 in Venezuela (2001 Census) and 144,003 in Colombia (1997 Census). The Wayuu language, called wayuunaiki, is part of the Arawak language family predominant in different parts of the Caribbean. They have some minimal differences in dialect depending on where in the region of La Guajira they live: the northern, central or southern zone.
A traditional Wayuu settlement is made up of five or six houses that made up caserios or rancherias. Each rancheria has a name after a plant, animal or geographic place. A territory that contains many rancherias is named after the mother's last name, because of the matriarchal structure of the Wayuu culture.
The Wayuus never group into towns and rancherias are usually isolated and far from each other, to control and prevent mixing of their goat herds.The typical house is a small structure called piichi or miichi, generally divided into two rooms where they hang hamocs to sleep and to keep personal belongings such as cotton made purses and ceramics to keep water. Living quarters can be either rectangular or semi-circular and the rooftop is made up of dried cactus hearts. Traditionally, the walls are made out of yotojoro - a wattle and daub of mud, hay and dried canes -, but some of them have shifted towards a more modern construction style, like using cement and other materials.
Close to the main house they erect a common area, similar to a living room named luma or enramada, but almost in the open. It's made out of six pillars and a flat roof and serves as a common area for everyday duties and where visitors are attended, business activities are handled and where relatives hang their hammocks for the noon power nap.
The Dagger Cactus (Stenocereus griseus) which the Wayuu call yosú is the preferred source of roof and yotojoro wood. This plant is used for many other purposes - it can be planted to produce living fences around pastureland, and when young the shoots are fed to goats. The fruit (iguaraya) are edible and pitahaya-like and are a popular food among the Wayuu. Because the demand for yosú as food or for wood can be seasonally high, the plant population at times declines to a point where little fruit or cuttings for fences are available. It has thus been proposed to develop techniques by which the Wayuu can cultivate or tend for the cactus as a proper crop.
The Spirit World
The Wayúu show the world their enormous cultural wealth through a mix of traditional music, rituals, customs, handicrafts, forums, expeditions, and games, all of which have fostered the preservation of ancestral customs, traditions, and folklore.
There are many celebrations through out the year related to material and spiritual matters of the Wayúu, such as offerings, revelations, illness, healing, horse races, harvests, etc.
The Wayuu has contributed with their own traditional music and instrument. Their culture directly associates economy and social life with music; such as in the case of raising cattle, in which the indigenous sang to their animals. They also used music for meetings and celebrations, as well as mourning in funerals. The Yonna is the traditional dance of the Wayuu and is used to honor guests.
The Wayuus created many rustic musical instruments called Kashi, Sawawa (type of flute), ma'asi, totoy and the taliraai (tubular flute), wootoroyoi (type of clarinet), among others. The Majayura or ritual of the "young wayuu virgin" in which the female dances towards the male for marriage, while other males perform rhythms with their traditional instruments until the male tumbles onto the ground.
Date accessed 01.04.15
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