Who are the Wayuu?

They are indigenous people from the Guajira Peninsula, on the Caribbean Sea, who mainly inhabit territories in the department of La Guajira in Colombia and the state of Zulia in Venezuela.

Vínculo Wayúu
Tomado de https://www.unicef.org/colombia/historias/v%C3%ADnculo-way%C3%BAu

Where does the word Wayuu come from?

The term Guajiro is a deformation of the words war-hero and has its origins from the end of the 19th century, where peasants from Cuba and Puerto Rico were called to fight against the Spanish crown for their independence, allied with American troops who gave them this "name" to the peasants of the time.


The Wayúu are located on the La Guajira peninsula in northern Colombia and northwest Venezuela in the state of Zulia, on the Caribbean Sea. They occupy an area of 1,080,336 hectares, which are located in the reserve of the Alta and Media Guajira, eight more reserveslocated in the south and the Media Guajira, and the Carraipía reserve. This indigenous people are located in the municipalities of Barrancas, Distracción, Fonseca, Maicao, Uribía, Manaure, and Riohacha. They also have a presence in the Venezuelan state of Zulia. In total, they are 144,003 people distributed in 18,211 families. The Wayúu represent 20.5% of the national indigenous population (DNP-Incora, 1997), 48% of the population of La Guajira, and 8% of the population of the state of Zulia. Consequently, they are the largest indigenous ethnicity on the Guajira Peninsula and in the country, followed by the Nasa, Zenú, and Embera. (Ministry of the Interior. Republic of Colombia)


The Wayúu people are the largest indigenous ethnicity in Venezuela and Colombia; they represent about 11% of the population of Zulia state and about 45% of the population of La Guajira department. 97% of the population speaks their traditional language, which is Wayúu or Wayuunaiki, while 32% speak Spanish. 66% have not received any formal education. The Wayúu population in Colombia, according to the 2019 census, is 380,460 people, which represents 20% of the indigenous population of the country, being the largest group in Colombia.

The settlement dynamics of this ethnic group are matrilocal and characterized by settlements based on the ranchería or Piichipala. The rancherías are made up of several single-story huts inhabited by extended families. The ranchería system houses uterine relative family units, forming a residence group defined by a collective corral, gardens, a cemetery, some have a mill to pump water or jagueyes (artificial wells), and casimbas (dams in riverbeds) to store water. They have a narrow network of cooperation and the right to access a local water source. (Ministry of the Interior. Republic of Colombia)

The health of the Wayuu

The Wayúu ethnicity, as a result of their isolated location between two large countries, has a mixture of traditional and Western medicine. Mainly, there are diseases that result from nutritional deficiencies and poverty. Also, there are diseases caused by the isolated geography and lack of clean water sources. There is a negative correlation between family chronic malnutrition and the mother's secondary or higher education.

The most common illnesses include malnutrition, respiratory and gastrointestinal problems in children under five, sexually transmitted diseases, cervical and uterine cancer, hypertension, dental problems, and physical abuse wounds.

Within the Wayuu ethnicity, health and illness are defined in a different way. According to the community, there are two types of illnesses. First, there is an "ayuulee" disease which is less serious. Second, there are "wanülüü" diseases, which are malignant and somewhat terminal. Examples of "wanülüü" diseases include cancer or heart problems, which in the terms of the people, "cause a definitive departure of the soul."


The Wayuu are mostly bilingual, although a fraction of them in the Middle and Upper Guajira are monolingual. Their indigenous language, from the Arawak linguistic family, has two dialect forms that do not hinder communication among those who speak them: the wayuunaiki "arribero" (or from Upper Guajira), and the "abajero" (or from Lower Guajira) (Mininterior).

Customs and traditions 

The Wayuu oral tradition is very rich and varied and represents an emotional projection of the real Wayuu world. As with the rest of Amerindian cultures, some traits are more resistant to change, such as the language or the traditional medicine system concentrated in the Wayuu Shaman, known as "Payé," who chooses his profession guided by some dreams and has the esoteric knowledge of traditional plants and magical psalms to treat the sick.

It is one of the most representative customs of the Wayuu people. The Yonna dance is celebrated for special reasons such as a good harvest, welcome, or honor of someone.

The dance is danced on a clear and flat ground called pioi. Entering to dance not only involves gathering in society but giving thanks for what one has or what one hopes to obtain.

When a Wayuu man enters the circle, he challenges the women. One of them dances until she gets tired or he knocks her down. The man has to dance with all the Wayuu women, and the closeness between them implies pleasure or displeasure, in order to initiate a friendly relationship.

After the festivities are over, a gift is offered to all the young women and women who have participated in recognition of their strength.

Another custom is when a Wayuu woman and man wish to marry, they must go through certain unbreakable processes before the wedding ceremony:

  • Hand request: the groom is not the person who communicates his marriage intentions to the bride's parents. The young woman's uncle is in charge, as otherwise, it would be a lack of respect for the family and tradition.
  • Dowry pact: the dowry is a collection by the man in which he gives necklaces, animals, and other goods to the bride’s family. In Wayuu culture, the woman is the most important member of the community, and her leaving represents a great loss for her relatives.
  • Wayuu wedding day: a great party and celebration is created where the interfamily relationship is formalized, and the agreed-upon dowry is delivered.
símbolos wayúu
Taken from https://www.cultura10.org/wayuu/simbolos/

Guajira law is exercised through oral expression, and the word is everything. se ejerce por medio de la expresión oral y la palabra lo es todo.

The word speaker or pütchipü'üi is responsible for orally directing the Wayuu Normative System in wayunaiki. This system is the set of rules, guidelines, and laws that regulate the behavior of the community.

Regarding civil, criminal, or Wayuu justice responsibility, it is agreed upon with compensation in the form of livestock or money.

For example, if tears have been caused to a woman through one's actions, even if unintentionally, compensation is demanded. If the offender does not pay to the satisfaction of the offended party, a war between families is announced to counteract the damage caused.

Wayuu Culture Festival

It is the most significant and representative festival of Wayuu culture. Women with colorful weavings, gastronomy, percussion, and dance attract attention, not only from members of the ethnicity but also from tourists and visitors to the area.

The festival is celebrated every year between June 12th, 13th, and 14th. Three days without rest filled with fun, praising customs such as:

  • Majayut: the next ambassador of the Wayuu community is chosen for their knowledge of the Wayunaiki language, their traditions, and current reality.
  • Theatrical performances: children perform the myths and legends of their culture.
  • Competitions: of Wayuu instruments such as kasha, tariraü, wontoloyaa, and turompa.
  • Craft exhibitions: of pottery and weaving, where Wayuu mochilas give way to a parade of colorful threads full of meaning.
  • Dances: such as Yonna or Kaulayaa.
  • Competitions: such as cactus shooting, wrestling, slingshot shooting, and horse races.
  • Gastronomic exhibitions: with typical dishes such as friche, mazamorra, and fish.

Art and Culture

Within their worldview, the Wayuu indicate that the first Wayuu and their clans all emerged from Wotkasainru, a land in the Alta Guajira. It was Maleiwa, the central figure of their mythic universe, who made them and who also made the irons to mark each clan and distinguish them: one for the Uliana, another for the Jayaliyu, the Uraliyú, the Ipuana, the Jusayú, the Epieyú, the Sapuana, Jinnú, among others. In addition to Maleiwa, the creator god of the Wayuu and founder of society, the spouses Pulowi and Juvá are related to the generation of life. Pulowi, the woman, is associated with drought and winds. Juvá is a wandering man who hunts and kills. Wanülü represents the evil of disease or death. Two central moments in the lives of the Wayuu are marriage and burial. 

Marriage is crucial for the prestige it gives to have the ability to make an alliance that involves having access to resources and the support of one's own (the payment to the bride's family represented in animals, jewelry, hammocks, and vessels). Burial is the responsibility of women, who prepare the dead: they pick them up, bathe them, and place them in the coffin to be exhumed two years later for cremation. (Ministry of the Interior. Republic of Colombia).

The Wayuu music derives from Jayeechi and the interpretation of musical instruments, which would come from that folkloric realm, and from the connotation of what is considered a simple cultural expression. It is convenient to define this practice as a reproductive exercise of the Wayuu narrative history, from the realm of orality, becoming the guarantor of the permanence of the poetic and lyrical Wayuu narrative, from the practice of Jayeechimajachi and the interpreter of Wayuu musical instruments (eirajui), which brings with it a series of metaphorical and everyday senses of Wayuu life. In this sense, Jayeechi is called songs and chants, like the interpretation of Wayuu musical instruments, both connotations transmit some story or event from everyday life or narrate a historical event, pictorial of Wayuu society.

Taken from: https://ekiitaya.com/blogs/articulos/cual-es-la-importancia-de-la-cultura-wayuu

Social organization 

The social organization of the Wayuu people is strongly associated with their cosmogonic principles and modes of mythical representation. Dreams are a very important aspect of the daily life of the community, since they explain the reality of the collective and individuals and are also given prophetic powers. Wayuu society has a complex structure, it is matrilineal in nature and has about 30 clans, each with its own territory and its own totemic animal. Within the extended family, the ultimate authority belongs to the maternal uncle, who intervenes in all family and domestic problems. Within the nuclear family, the children are practically directed by the mother's brother and not by their biological father. Wayuu women are active and independent, have an important role as conductors and organizers of the clan, and are politically active in their society, so female authorities are the ones who represent their people in public spaces. Marriage is contracted with a person from another clan, and the man's parents pay a dowry to the woman's parents. The Wayuu occasionally practice polygamy, which gives prestige to the man who practices it. (Ministry of Culture. Republic of Colombia)

Wayuu mochilas and Hammocks 

The Wayuu are notable for their textile work. Weaving for the Wayuu people is more than a cultural practice and inheritance from their ancestors, it is a way of conceiving and expressing life as they feel it and wish it to be. An art conceived and enjoyed. The observation of their countless weaves allows them to read the spirit that guides their action and thought.

Kanas is the highest expression of Wayuu weaving, it is a very ancient art, probably originated in the high Guajira. It consists of a weaving of stylized geometric figures, representing elements of the natural environment that surround the Wayuu's daily life. 

The more complex the figures, the more valuable the piece becomes. It is woven on a forked loom. Each kana has a name and meaning.

The chinchorro and the hammock are the most representative weaves of Wayuu culture. Although the chinchorro and the hammock have the same function, at the textile level they have marked differences; the former is elastic and loosely woven, and the latter is heavy and compact, with a pallet weave. 

Hammocks and chinchorros are made by hand; once the central body, the cabuyera, the handle or grip, and the fringe are finished, they are woven separately. The cabuyera is tied to the headboard and the fringe is a long, narrow strip that hangs from the side edges of the chinchorro body. The Shei is a funeral blanket in which the deceased are wrapped and buried; it is rectangular and colorful, rich in kana designs. Liíra is is the long and narrow girdle that is part of the masculine guayuco. Mantalaju is the girdle that goes over the bald head and is tied to the saddle and the girth. Atula is a complex technique of braiding threads, which requires a lot of skill and concentration. The mochila, susu or 'what walks with one', is never lacking in Wayúu clothing; It is woven in crochet or crochet, with the fiber of the maguey and cotton.  

There are several types of mochilas: Susuchon, which is named after the waistband and is hung on each side of the guayuco; Susu, the daily mochila, of medium size, which the Wayuu carry everywhere; Ainacajatu, a large mochila where women carry the hammock, clothes, and everything necessary for trips; Kapatera, the man's large mochila, a kind of cylindrical tube with two openings and drawstrings that are also used as hangers. Kattowi, a very resistant mesh mochila with multiple uses, to transport pots and mucuras full of water. The Wayuu men make palm leaf hats, suitable for intense sun days, blankets, and guaireñas or espadrilles (footwear made to resist extensive days in the sand), among others.

Weaving for the Wayuu people is more than a cultural practice and inheritance from their ancestors; it is a way of conceiving and expressing life as they feel and desire it. A thought-out and enjoyed art. Observing their countless weavings allows them to read the spirit that guides their action and thinking (Crafts of Colombia).

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Taken from https://www.portafolio.co/tendencias/lujo/estilo-wayuu-un-proyecto-que-transforma-vidas-en-la-guajira-515611
Taken from: https://feriaartesanalmanizales.wordpress.com/2013/10/13/13/attachment/2/


Artisanal fishing and pastoralism are two traditional sectors of the economy. Given the conditions of their land, the Wayuu develop a mixed economy based on the breeding and grazing of goats and cattle (horses) combined with specialized horticulture of corn, beans, cassava, auyama, cucumbers, melons, and watermelon, as well as activities such as hunting. In addition tobeing part of the food base and an object of exchange, livestock - especially goats - has a cultural significance that makes it a symbol of power, status, and prestige. Indigenous families located on the western coast and who depend mainly on fishing zealously maintain their rights to it. Each garden is owned by a man, and he assigns his children the right to use sections of the land. Each man cultivates his plot assisted by his wife. Salt mining in Manaure is also another source of subsistence, which is done mechanically or manually; in the latter, mainly an indigenous person participates using "charcas," from which he gets two annual harvests. (Ministry of the Interior. Republic of Colombia)


The physical appearance of the Wayuu is typical of Amerindian races: straight, black, and thick hair, little body hair, slanted eyes, and prominent cheekbones. There are already many traces of racial mixing among the Wayuu, and among women, paleness or whiteness of the skin is highly valued as a symbol of beauty.

Regarding clothing, men wear a "guayuco" or short loincloth tied with a narrow band from which tassels hang for decoration, a short mochila, and a knife. They wear a white shirt on their torso, a felt hat, and leather sandals without decorations. The Wayuu begin to feel ashamed and sorry to wear the guayuco because it is starting to be replaced by white-style pants.

Women wear brightly colored headscarves and long, loose clothing that reaches the ground, called "manta". They wear leather sandals adorned with large, colorful tassels that represent or symbolize the socio-economic status of the woman wearing them. They wear archeological bead necklaces called "tumas" over their chest. These necklaces hold great emotional and magical value, and are passed down carefully as a heritage from mothers to daughters and from generation to generation. Women often decorate their faces and arms with plant-based dyes. This facial decoration sometimes represents the woman's caste membership.

Taken from: https://etniasdelmundo.com/c-colombia/wayuu/

Life cycle

For the Wayuu, a woman becomes pregnant when the "blood" (semen) of the father mixes with the menstrual blood of the woman, or the "flesh" in the mother's womb. The baby is considered as the reincarnation of a distant or recent uterine relative, and that's why pregnant women usually move away from the ranchería to have a private conversation with their unborn baby and ask who they are.

After birth, the baby has a very close relationship with their mother, and as they grow up, they also develop a relationship with their father, although this latter relationship will gradually weaken and be replaced by the relationship with their maternal uncle.

The child is given a personal name that is appropriate only in the narrow circle of their closest relatives. If someone were to use this name outside of these circles, it would be considered a grave offense. The child also has the name of their mythical ancestor as a surname and a family nickname.

In childhood, their education is based on discipline, respect, and constant vigilance by the mother. When they reach puberty, the young Wayuu is considered an adult in their society, which implies knowing the arts of war and armed conflicts between castes.

For women, puberty is a rite of passage, which begins with confinement in a small room in the house for several months, where they learn domestic activities and issues related to sexuality. At the end of the confinement, a traditional party called "chicha maya" or "fertility dance" is held, and the woman is presented in society as an adult woman.

Regarding marriage, the groom must pay a dowry in kind for his bride, which must be greater than what his father-in-law paid for his future wife's mother. This dowry is represented in cows, goats, or donkeys.

In their old age, they enjoy the prestige that comes with the authority of experience. When a Wayuu dies, elaborate rituals are held, in which the body is exposed in a hammock for several days, during which the spirit of the deceased retraces their steps and returns to all the places where they were in life. Their relatives sacrifice livestock from their herds for the guests, but they themselves refrain from doing so, considering it incestuous to do so, being of the same "flesh". The amount of livestock sacrificed represents the importance of the spirit of the deceased.

Several years later, the secondary burial takes place, where the spirits of the dead and the sacrificed livestock go to a place to the northwest of La Guajira and live there until they are reincarnated in the womb of a woman.

Religion of the Wayuu Culture 

The religion of the Wayuu culture is polytheistic, like many other ancient civilizations. It includes all types of rituals, myths, legends, and beliefs that range from the creation of the earth to the appearance of their gods. The Wayuu gods are generally related to natural elements, and some of the most important ones include:

  • Wanulu, goddess of diseases and death.
  • Mareiwa, considered the most important god as the creator.
  • Juya, god of hunting and killing, who travels as a wanderer and was also the husband of Pulowi.
  • Mma, identified as Mother Earth.
  • Pulowi, Juya's wife, goddess who controlled the winds and drought.
  • Kachi, god of the moon, close to Juya.
  • Cai, god of the sun who lived near Mareiwa.

Due to the desert location of the Wayuu culture, their economy relies heavily on goat herding.

Movies & Documentaries

Wayuu indigenous culture:

How to salute in Wayuunaiki:

Wayuu Dance:

Wayuu Language:

Wachikua documentary:

Wayuu singing:

Mochila commerce:


colaboradores de Wikipedia. (s. f.). Pueblo wayú. Wikipedia, la enciclopedia libre. https://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pueblo_way%C3%BA 

Los Wayuu. (s. f.). UPME.gov. http://www.upme.gov.co/guia_ambiental/carbon/areas/minorias/contenid/wayuu.htm

Wayuurs. (2022). COSTUMBRES WAYUU. https://wayuurs.com/costumbres-y-tradiciones/

ONIC. (2022). Wayuú. https://www.onic.org.co/pueblos/1156-wayuu

Pérez, M. L. (2013, 3 julio). Religión, vivienda y lenguaje Wayuu. . . conociendo a los wayuu. http://conociendoaloswayuu.blogspot.com/2013/07/religion-vivienda-y-lenguaje-wayuu.html


The Wayuu are indigenous people from the Guajira Peninsula, on the Caribbean Sea, who live mainly in the territories of the La Guajira department in Colombia and Zulia state in Venezuela.) One of the most representative customs of the Wayuu people is the Yonna dance that is celebrated for special reasons such as a good harvest, the welcome or the honor of someone.The physical appearance of the Wayuu is typical of Amerindian races: thick, black, straight hair, little body hair, slanted eyes, and prominent cheekbones. Among the Wayuu there are already many traces of racial miscegenation, and among women between paleness or whiteness of the skin it is highly appreciated as a symbol of beauty.The Wayúu are notable for their textile work. Weaving for the Wuayúu people is more than a cultural practice and inheritance from their ancestors, it is a way of conceiving and expressing life as they feel and desire it. An art thought and enjoyed. Observing their innumerable fabrics allows them to read the spirit that guides their actions and thoughts.

The physical appearance of the Wayuu is typical of Amerindian races: straight, black, and thick hair, little body hair, slanted eyes, and prominent cheekbones. There are already many traces of racial mixing among the Wayuu, and among women, paleness or whiteness of the skin is highly valued as a symbol of beauty.

The Wayuu are notable for their textile work. Weaving for the Wayuu people is more than a cultural practice and inheritance from their ancestors, it is a way of conceiving and expressing life as they feel it and wish it to be. An art conceived and enjoyed. The observation of their countless weaves allows them to read the spirit that guides their action and thought.