Arhuaco community

The Arhuaco are indigenous people of Colombia. They are Chibchan-speaking people and descendants of the Tairona culture, concentrated in northern Colombia, in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta.

The Sierra Indians call themselves ‘the older brothers’, and believe that they have a mystical wisdom and understanding, which surpasses that of others. They refer to outsiders as ‘the younger brothers.’ The older brothers believe it is their responsibility to maintain the balance of the universe. When there are hurricanes, droughts, or famines around the world, it is said that they are the cause of human failure to keep the world in harmony. This balance is achieved by making offerings to the sacred sites to give back to the earth what is taken out of it.

The spiritual leaders are called Mamos. The Mamo is charged with maintaining the natural order of the world through songs, meditations and ritual offerings. Mamo training begins at a young age and continues for around 18 years. The young male is taken high into the mountains where he is taught to meditate on the natural and spirit world.

To become a Mamo, they stay in a cave for nine years while the elders teach them everything they need to know. They specialize in certain knowledge areas such as philosophy, sacerdotalism, medicine and practical community or individual counselors. Their influence is decisive in their society. In Western culture, the Mamo could be seen as the priest, teacher and doctor, all rolled into one.

The Arhuaca Mochila (bags) are the most representative item of the Arhuaco people. These organic and 100% natural cross-body bag are mainly worm by male member of the Arhuaco people. The bags are only woven by Wati (Arhuaco women) who posses the energy and the wisdom to make a unique creation for her husband. It is not only the intricate and time-consuming technique that make them so special, but its ancient traditions and symbolism that they represent.

Arhuaco men traditionally use three bags: one called chige kwanu, to save personal belongings, another called Zizhu, to carry cocoa leaves, and the third for food storage or travel items. They also used a fourth one called masi, to hold their poporo.
When a man and woman will marry, the future wife weaves two bags, one for her and one for her husband, to symbolize the love of the couple.