I was at Maicao when I met for the first time, the girl who was going to be my hostess for the next five days. Jareena is an indian Wayuu,young student, trendy, busy answering her instant messages received on her smarphone. She was silent, sat in front of the 4×4 truck, the one that was supposed to drive us to our final destination, the Rancheria Jareena in the Cabo de la Vela.
Rancheria Jareena at Cabo de la Vela
The road was sinuous, the landscape infinitely desert and plane, the journey endless. On the way, we crossed Wayuu indians, dressed with traditional mantas (dress) and susu (bag) from the area of La Guajira. A little further, a herd of goats cross the raod carelessly. Three hours later, we arrive finally to our final destination. We are in the peninsula of La Guajira, in the north of Colombia, border with Venezuela.
Our Rancheria has a breathtaking view to the caribbean sea. According to the beliefs, we are at the door of Jepira, the holy place for the Wayuu, full of mythology and beliefs transmitted by orality.
This Amerindian community is the most important of Colombia and Venezuela in terms of number of people. The population is estimated at around 600 000 souls, the two countries together. The language spoken belongs to the Arawak language family and is called Wayuunaiki. Most probably originally it comes from Amazon. Nowadays most of the people is bilingual and speak Spanish also. That said when I arrived, two little Wayuu girls came to me to sell their bracelets and they clearly had no idea how to speak Spanish.
The aim of my visit is to live to the rhythm of the local people, to understand the organization of this matrilineal society, their costums and their beliefs. At my arrival, I settle in a spartan dormitory. I can feel a very unique energy in this place far away from everything, an imposing peace. Jareena set the tone when she reappears now dressed with the mantas and her hair covered with a scarf. She explains me few details that are useful for my stay before go away again.
Throughout the discussions I understand that the Wayuu are organized in 34 matrilineal clans – Eiruküu – and the link is perpetuated thanks to the maternal line. Walking by the village of Cabo de la Vela, I quickly get that most of his people are related in one single family, the Ipuana clan. Everybody is cousin, or uncle, or grand-mother of its neighbor. Jareena’s sister, Nat Nat joins us few days later, she come specifically to attend a family meeting, I try to know more about it… she explains to me that each important decision is discussed internally with the clan, during assemblies, everybody is participating from the little one to the old one.
Jareena and Nat Nat are the great daughters of Clara Gómez Barliza Ipuana (R.I.P), she used to be Counselor and Traditional Autority at the Cabo de la Vela – ; they are the daughters of Remedios Fajardo Ipuana – Leader Wayuu and Defender of the Right for Proper Education for the Wayuu people, she is one of the Founder of The Indian Organization La Guajira Yanama, Entity that works for 30 years now to lead important organizational processes, socio-culturals, educatives and political of the Wayuu people. In the past years they had consolidated their own educational processes through the implementation of the educational project Anna Akua’ipa.
These women are the heiresses of a matrilineal structure that has had until now a strong impact on the history of the Ipuana clan at the Cabo de la Vela, which totemic aninal is the falcon. Jareena and Nat Nat are proud to be Wayuu and aspire to continue the work of their ancestors to defend their territory and their culture which has the particularity to be transmitted only orally from generation to generation, condition they had learnt precisely from their mother and their grand-mothers.
In the traditional territory of the Ipuana there is no document like contracts or sale agreements. A Wayuu cannot sale or rent its land. The land is transmitted by heritage only. In case of litigation, the maternal uncle would represent the family and the Pütchipü (mediator) would make sure a conciliation is found. In terms of justice, the Wayuu people has its own jurisdiction recognized by the Colombian constitution and distinguished by Unesco as Masterpiece of the oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.
I ask to Nat Nat to talk about the Wayuu beliefs, she suggest to drive me, the next day, to the family cemetery, slightly surprised, I accept curious and enthousiastic. We wake up at 5 am. I am invited as an observer to attend the weekly cleaning of the grand-mother tomb deceased 5 years ealier. The tradition Wayuu talks about a permanent closeness with the ancestors through the dreams, not to forget who they were and how important they were in their lives. Through the dreams the death visit the living beings and they can actually communicate and protect them or warn them from possible danger all around.
The Wayuu are buried twice, the first ceremony is very classical, the second one happen years after the first one and is called Asalijaa Jiipü – “sacada de restos”. It consists in cleaning the remaining bones that will be put in a ceramic urn with the bones of other members of the clan. Then it will be buried again in the family cemetery. This final ritual is very important, it is considered by the Wayuu as the definitive travel to Jepira, the holy place, located in the seabed, which entrance shall be somewhere in the costal area of Cabo de la Vela.
The dreams are very important for the Wayuu, they are considered as messages, warnings or advices from the ancestors. The Wayuu is required to share its dream with the person who is concerned by it. In order to interpretate or realize the dreams, an Ouutsü can be contacted, he is the spiritual guide who knows are to read the dreams. At times he will be able to communicate with the ancestors through specific rituals.
The culture Wayuu has a lot of mythology and legends, one of them talks about a mythical spider who taught to the Wayuu the art of weaving. The story is about three mean sisters without children who once welcome a deformed little girl. She had a great wisdom because she had inside her the spirit of weaving being the daughter of a spider. From these times, the Wayuu have the priceless knowledge of weaving. They know how to weave the roof with dry cactus, they know how to weave susu characteristic bags of La Guajira, they know how to weave hamacs called Chinchorros, they are very important in this culture because they are used from birth til death and they are a prestigious thing to have.
My week at Cabo de la Vela reaches its end. Slowly but surely I have connected with the members of the Ipuana clan who genereously shared their stories, happy of my interest in their particular culture.
My stay keeps the colours of all these beautiful beings who shared my everyday life and to whom I would like to pay tribute here with this post and to thank a lot : Doña Remedios, Nat Nat, Jareena, Doña Julia, Doña Socorro, Don Cunino, Toña, Laura, KanKan, Sonia, Carolina, Swadri Patricia and all the others…
with a grateful and nostalgic feeling we modestly said good-bye.