Who are the Wiwas?
They are indigenous communities who live in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, in the departments of Cesar, La Guajira, and Magdalena in Colombia. They share the territory with other indigenous communities such as the Kogui and Arhuaco.
Where does the word Wiwas come from?
The name Wiwa comes from the root "wi," which means warm (person from warm land). It also means "to engender" or give origin. Wiwas are also known as Sajas, which means natives or indigenous people, in contrast to sintalu, foreigner, or non-indigenous. Other denominations are proper gentilic names of Wiwa towns: guamacas (from Guamaka), marocaseros (from Marokaso), arsarios (from El Rosario). The origin of the name Malayos is not clear.
The native language of the Wiwas is Damana, belonging to the Chibcha linguistic family. This community has a deep cultural identity and its Law of Origins governs their daily life, existence, and community issues, as well as guiding spiritual and social sanctions. However, the Wiwas are a people who have suffered constant violations of their human rights. They have historically been victims of armed actors, not only illegal but also legal, due to the great interest that exists over indigenous territory.
History of the Wiwas
The history of the Wiwa people of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta is known through oral tradition, based on stories and myths shared by the peoples of the Sierra. The Wiwas tell that in the beginning, they had life in the water, before the creation of the world, they were all water bubbles. When darkness came, thought was created, and thanks to the parents Sealukukui and Serankua, who were the creators, they turned the Wiwas into people and most importantly, they left thought and responsibility to the Wiwas to be guardians of the territory (Diagnóstico y líneas de acción para las comunidades Wiwa, 2015).
The construction of the territory for the Wiwas not only constitutes the physical and geographical but also implies thinking about it. There are mainly three steps for the production of the territory. Firstly, the group must perceive space through images and representations. Secondly, the Mamo performs an appropriation and distribution of the different spaces through divination. Finally, territory is constructed through the routes, activities, and experience of the places (Córdoba, 2006).
Also, they have an ancestral territory seen as a sacred space that transcends the physical. The territory is considered as the mother, which contains all the spiritual elements that make the life of all beings possible.
The structure of the Wiwa people is organized around families, organized by patrilineal and/or matrilineal lineages. The lineages are organized in relation to the spiritual ancestors and under certain spiritual rules. The creation of these lineages aims to maintain brotherhood as a people and with other indigenous peoples who inhabit the Sierra Nevada.
The traditional Wiwa authorities are the Mamos, Sagas, and Absogedi (thinker). They are responsible for being the spiritual and social guide of the communities. They represent prestige, authority, and power. They must always maintain harmonious relationships with their families and have exemplary behavior since they are the models to follow for the community. It is important to clarify that the role of authority is not exclusively male because there is the figure of Saga, which means moon, and is the companion of the Mamo. They have a special function since they guide women (Fajardo and Gamboa, 1998).
As economic activities, they grow sweet potato, pineapple, pumpkin, malanga, coffee, rice, and chili peppers, as well as raising domestic animals and pigs. Coffee is used as a commercial crop. The sale of domestic animals, livestock, and wage or day labor are important components of their economy.
Customs and traditions
In the worldview of the Wiwa indigenous people, there is a strong spiritual connection with supernatural characters that bring to life the mythical stories of the world. This is why tangible characters like the Mamo and Saga embody the idealization of the spiritual reality and forms of beliefs of the people.
These characters represent their natural gods: the sun and the moon, respectively. They are then considered traditional authorities before the other members of the people. In this way, they are characters that explain the social and natural life of the collective that are exposed through the oral tradition of the Mamos and Sagas.
Religious proselytism in the territories of the Sierra Nevada has caused the appropriation of new religious beliefs that have produced a strong syncretism between spiritual beliefs and transcendent Catholic traditions. The social life of the mountain peoples is mediated by the different manifestations of a spiritual nature that make up a system of ritual and festivities that revolve around the development of traditional activities.
The coca plant is one of the plants with the greatest ceremonial and spiritual use, as well as being used for the treatment of severe ailments and illnesses.
Art and Culture
Like the other peoples of the Sierra Nevada, music and dance are two aspects of great importance within Wiwa culture, as they allow for a balance between man and nature. Music and dance are present throughout human life, due to their important presence in purification rituals. Wiwa music is known as Chicote. It consists of sounds produced through instruments such as the reed and the flute, although recently the accordion has been adopted. The sounds produced by these instruments are linked to the sounds of nature.
With respect to clothing, men wear pants and a long shirt that covers up to the knees and extends beyond the pants. They also wear abarcas, made with a rubber base crossed with leather that secures them to the foot. On the other hand, women wear a long white dress that covers just below the knee. Unmarried women wear a one-piece dress, while married women wear the dress crossed.
Another important aspect within the Wiwa people is textiles, as they reflect and construct thought and knowledge. From textiles, daily life in the Wiwa is reflected, they weave buku (clay pots), mui (walls of homes or ceremonial centers), wewena (fan to blow the fire in the homes), dzhina (belt for women), kazurru (hat), mujka (original dress of the Wiwa people). (Diagnosis and lines of action for the Wiwa communities, 2015). Likewise, the mochilas are of great importance: the duadu and the suzu. On the one hand, the first one is made with pure cotton and is used to carry personal belongings, and on the other hand, the second one is made with fique fibers and has various designs and colorful figures.
The Wiwa mochila
The mochila is a tradition of the Wiwas: "With the mochila we are indigenous, without the mochila we are not indigenous."
The value of a Wiwa mochila from the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, in addition to being a beautiful handmade piece, is the representation of ancestral tradition and the way of interpreting the world of Colombian indigenous people.
The mochila has a meaning depending on the figures, because it has the figure from where it comes from. Each mochila has its teaching; women can create new figures and from the figure they take out their story. Each figure has its story, but they can create new figures based on the ancient ones.
The fiber comes from the Maguey or Fique plant, which members of the community call By. It is a plant widely used by the indigenous people of the Sierra and the coffee farmers in the region. Each mochila requires between 24 and 26 maguey leaves.
They have a ritual for the first mochila which consists of giving it to an elderly person to bless it; so that the Wiwa woman can continue making more mochila until the end of her life.
Movies & Documentaries
A forgotten people::
Dancing to keep the planet rotating::
- CARACTERIZACIONES DE LOS PUEBLOS INDÍGENAS DE COLOMBIA, MINISTERIO DE CULTURA.
- Ministerio del Interior. República de Colombia. Caracterización Pueblos Indígenas. Pueblo Wiwa.
- La Mochila Wiwa de la Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. Adventure Colombia.
WIWAS – THE PEOPLE WHO GIVE ORIGIN TO HEAT
The Wiwas are indigenous reserves who live in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, departments of Cesar, La Guajira, and Magdalena, and share the territory with part of the reserves of the Kogui and Arhuaco. The authority is not exclusively male because there is the figure of the Saga, which means moon, and is the companion of the Mamo. They have a strong spiritual bond with supernatural characters that give life to the mythical stories of the world. That is why they are communities that explain the social and natural life of the collective, which is exposed through the oral tradition of the Mamos and Sagas. The mochila is a tradition of the Wiwas: "With the mochila, we are indigenous; without the mochila, we are not indigenous." son resguardos indígenas que habitan en la Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, departamentos de Cesar, La Guajira y Magdalena y que comparten el territorio con parte de los resguardos de los kogui y arhuaco. La autoridad no es exclusivamente masculino porque existe la figura de la Saga, la cual significa luna, y es la compañera del Mamo. Tienen un fuerte vínculo espiritual con personajes sobrenaturales que dan vida a las historias míticas del mundo. Por eso, son comunidades que explican la vida social y natural del colectivo que son expuestos a través de la tradición oral de los Mamos y Sagas. La mochila es una tradición de los Wiwas: “Con la mochila nosotros somos indígenas, sin la mochila no somos indígenas”.
The value of a Wiwa mochila from the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, besides being a beautiful handicraft piece, is the representation of ancestral tradition and the way of interpreting the world of Colombian indigenous people. They have a ritual for the first mochila, which consists of giving it to an elder to bless it so that the Wiwa woman can continue making more mochilas until the end of her life.