ARTISANS OF LIGHT
EMBERA CHAMI OF COLOMBIA
"This is a culture, it is indigenous art that my grandmothers taught me and they sent me to do it; I do it with the respect of being in front of an inheritance."
The Embera Chami are one of the 90 Indigenous tribes that have resisted European colonization since the 16th century in Colombia. As warriors and protectors of their traditional cultures they have preserved their language, oral tradition, cosmovisions and social and political organisations.
The Embera are fundamentally connected to their natural environment. They see water, rivers and mountains as channels of communications with the spiritual worlds. As defenders of their lands and territories, they hold valuable knowledge and techniques to preserve the environment and traditional knowledge.
Today the Embera Chami live amidst a humanitarian crisis; in fact the tribe was declared in danger of physical and cultural extinction in 2009 by the Constitutional Court of Colombia. The Embera have been detrimentally affected by the armed conflict, mining projects and extractive policies, violence and forced removal of their lands. Violent armed groups have targeted community leaders, leaving their people in a highly fragile state.
Embera Chami communities extend across the North West of the country, in the Departments of Antioquia, Caldas, Chocó, Risaralda, and Valle del Cauca. Large numbers have moved to capital cities who depend on the income from their handcrafts, including beaded jewelry.
Embera women are the leading artisans, responsible for passing on this traditional beading knowledge to the future generations. All the pieces are needle-woven and hand-treaded; a wood loom is used for the special large pieces.
WAYÚU OF COLOMBIA
"Now I ask my mother, and she teaches me." ~ Talita Epieyu, 14 años
Scattered between Colombia and Venezuela live the Wayúu. Currently the Wayúu are the largest indigenous people in these two countries, with around 300,000 individuals. Jepira, as it is called in Wayunaki the peninsula where they are settled, is part of their ancestral territory. In the middle of this extensive cape, is one of the largest reservations in Colombia, in La Guajira.
Wayuu bags or mochilas are a traditional craft that has been practiced by Wayúu women for hundreds of years. It is said that a spider-like deity named Wale ´Kerü came to teach them how to weave. This deity fell in love with the Wayúu and when she took them to her family, the mother gave her cotton. Wale ´Kerü ate the cotton and from its mouth came the braided thread. With this thread the spider the knowledge of the fabric and its drawings. The Wayúus observed carefully and learned the techniques and drawings.
The craft of crocheting these bags is an art that is learned by Wayuu women from a young age, when a Wayuu girl goes from being a child to a woman. During her first menstrual cycle, she is obliged to stay confined to a hut anywhere from six months to a year. Previously, they used to stay confined for up to 7 years!
During this time, she is only allowed to have contact with her mother and her grandmother. Throughout these months of confinement, these 2 women will teach her everything she needs to know about being a Wayuu woman and caring for her future husband and children. It is during this time that she learns about the art of crocheting Wayuu bags. She learns the meaning of each pattern, shape and color used in her bags to carry on the craft of her people.