This story was previously published on The Latinamerican Post.
Located in La Guajira, Colombia, the Wayuu tribe represents 45 per cent of the population and produces art worth exporting.
The Wayuus' economy mostly depends on the grazing of sheep and cows, agriculture, and in the weaving of colourful backpacks, bags, and hammocks.
The weaving of these bags, or “Mochilas”, which are famous among tourists and Colombians, is not only an economic source for the tribe but also one of the most significant aspects of the Wayuu culture.
The tradition of weaving these bags comes from a legend that says a spider taught women how to weave creative drawings into the Wayuu Bags.
Even though La Guajira is 3,603 miles away, Yenny Suarez and her husband, Diego Aragon, decided to bring Wayuu art and culture to Calgary, Canada when they opened their online store, LatinTouch, in 2016.
“We want help the indigenous tribes by providing them work”, Suarez says.
In the past, Suarez used to sell Colombian products in Calgary, but her husband thought selling Wayuu hand-made art would be a better idea because of its variety of colours and designs, which he always liked.
According to the Wayuu Tribe website, each Wayuu mother teaches her daughter how to weave and crochet to keep the tradition alive because weaving is a symbol of wisdom, intelligence, and creativity.
Each bag is handcrafted in different colours, and each takes about 20 and 25 days to make.
According to Suarez, the backpack’s base can be woven in only one colour or in different tones, and after the base is made, the bag strap is made to combine with the backpack hues.
Each design is unique to the weaver and tells a story through the bag’s colours, shapes, and patterns.
Even though Suarez and Aragon didn’t have a direct relationship with the Wayuus, through different friends and people, they got in contact with Ricardo, the son of a Wayuu woman who weaves backpacks in La Guajira.
“They’re very happy to make a business with us,” Suarez explains.
“They’re aware their products go to Canada because we told them since the beginning.”
To get to Calgary, the Wayuu backpacks are sent from La Guajira to Bogota, the capital of Colombia, and then make their way to Canada.
“Ricardo feels happy working with us because his products are exported,” Suarez says.
Apart from backpacks and bags, the Wayuu women fabricate sandals, necklaces and other accessories.
Suarez is planning to travel to La Guajira to meet the Wayuu women who weave these backpacks, and adds that Wayuu art has been successful in Calgary because it is something unique, handcrafted and indigenous-made.
“This is a marvellous art. All the colours are striking and cheerful. I love it,” said Pilar Constanza Leiva Lerou, a Chilean woman who lives in Calgary.
Through their art, the Wayuu women expose their creativity and make a representation of the nature that surrounds their daily life, according to Colombian Paula Andrea Rivadeneira.
Their garments and accessories have a high economic and cultural value that symbolize the Guajira Land.
“Although they have to live in hard conditions, their art has become a medium to improve the quality of their lives. All lead by women”, Rivadeneira says.
In addition in helping to improve the lives of la Guajira, Suarez and Aragon decided to sponsor Hope in the dark, a Calgary-based non-profit organization which seeks to help single mothers who live in a poor area of Bucaramanga, Colombia.
“Since the beginning, our mission has been to give and help the ones who need it the most”, Suarez explains.
“With our company, we’re achieving it.”
In the long term, Suarez and Aragon are seeking to give a broader exposure of the Wayuu art all over Canada and to open their own stores with Wayuu backpacks and cork made accessories to reach different parts of the world.
“We want our country (Colombia) to be known for good things as well.”