the .raw story : la guajira
The second half of our Colombia expedition was spent with the Wayuu in La Guajira.
La Guajira is an aired, barren desert on the most northern tip of Colombia. While driving out, you just can’t even comprehend how people live out here. And not just a few people, the largest indigenous tribe in South America live in this desert - over 400,000 across Colombia & Venezuela.
They are robust, strong people with a history of war & fighting the Spanish for their land but contrasted with kind, opening hearts so eager to share about their culture.
We didn’t get to spend too much time with them and I wish I would have asked more questions at the time. But since we’ve gotten back, I’ve found one book on the tribe, Merachon - living with the Wayuu and have been obsessively it and I can’t wait to go back to hear more stories first hand.
While there, we learned about how they get their water & they showed us their traditional dancing. Their water comes from wells that they dig into the ground and move based upon dreams that they have that tell them where the water will be. The dancing represents different animals, history & family dynamics within the culture.
I’ll share more about the dancing later! But for now enjoy a few from the Wayuu of La Guajira.
The wayuu dance.
After sunset, we gathered under the enramada, an outdoor pergola, and the women began shaving & rubbing a chunk of clay to make a dark red paste. They took their dipped fingers and drew symbols & designs on each other’s faces with the paste and even extended the invitation to us and painted each of our faces. Each symbol represents a different animal or family in the desert. The women were dressed in their traditional dress, a flowy vibrant red dress with a larger piece of fabric draped over the head used to flow in the wind. The men dress in a similar fabric, just as vibrant but a different color. Once everyone was dressed & ready, we moved to an open space where the wind was no longer blocked by the buildings. The wind is a huge part of life there, it is a part of the dance. Someone moved their car to shine the headlights on the stage and everyone from the home gathered to watch and celebrate.
Like all rituals, the Yonna dance carries a symbolic charge and represents three basic principles: Social equality, collective solidarity and the improvement of relations between the human being and the Cosmos. During the dance and, to the sound of the drum, the woman leads and moves toward the man and pushes him back, while opening the shawl with her hands, making both a series of movements that are inspired by those of certain birds and animals. Each dance set is symbolic to an animal within their culture.
He walks backwards with long steps, avoiding falling and being overcome. If he falls he has been overcome and is not a suitable dancer. These movements create a mysterious and enigmatic choreography. It is also used for other of purposes, such as thanking the Gods; earth, rain, sun etc for their generosity.
We watched in awe. It was beautiful, angelic and so powerful - and at once point we even jumped in during portions of the dance and gave our best shot!! The dancing tells a story & the history. It gets passed down from generation to generation as you can see from the younger girl and it preserves the culture. I am so honored to have been a part of this cultural experience and I can’t wait to go back to learn more about their traditions to share more of their story. If you ever get a chance to spend time with the wayuu in the desert of La Guajira, do it!! Take a moment to ask questions, exchange the energy and be immersed with these incredible people!
We are headed back in December of 2020 guiding another group! Mark it in the books if you’d like to join!