Things to consider before buying Wayuu bags

Things to consider before buying Wayuu bags

The Wayuu women crochet traditional bags out of polyacryl. According to the NY-Times, those ethno bags have reached already 2011 high popularity. Why? It goes back to 2001, when the Venezuelan model Patricia Velazquez, starring in the movie “The Mummie”, gave those bags to her colleagues on set. The success of the model with her indigenous roots was great. Patricia founded the Wayuu-Taya foundation in favour of Wayuu children in Venezuela.

Who are the Wayuu?
The Wayuu originate from the northeastern part of South America. Counting 600.000 people, they make up the greatest community of indigenous people in Colombia and Venezuela.

What is a Wayuu bag?

Bags made by Wayuu women. According to the NY-Times, those ethno bags have reached high popularity.

The Wayuu bag market

After 2005, many tradespeople, luxury brands and designers are selling Wayuu bags. This is always done with the premise of supporting the Wayuu people financially. But is this true? Research of the Colombian TV channel RCN reveals the opposite. It is a pity that even the indigenous people contribute to the exploitation of their own kind.

What can be done against the exploitation of the Wayuu indigenous people?

1. Buying high quality, one looped bags
Before the Wayuu bags conquered the international market, Wayuu women waved their bags with one thread. In their culture, bags are crocheted as a socialising instrument, teaching them virtues like perfectionism and patience.
Since the bags are being sold worldwide, intermediaries let them be produced with a double thread, causing a loss of quality. The fabrication gets shortened from four weeks to three days, the pattern is imprecise and the loop often loose. With those bags of two threads, it only takes 1.5 stitches to crochet one centimeter. Therefore, bags made with two loops, take three times less effort!

2. Ask for the origin of the bag.
In case they derive from the Riohacha market, it can be taken as a bad sign. The Riohacha market is the base of many resellers worldwide, who buy the Wayuu bags to famine wages. A cheap bag costs about 18 USD. According to the Colombian TV channel RCN, indigenous peoples receive as little as 8 USD. Maybe you improve the live of a Wayuu women or maybe you increase sales for any middleman.
Unfortunately, it is not enough to buy the Wayuu bags. Information from the RCN is disillusioning. Wayuu are human beings, and good as well as bad ones exist. Exploitation is not an exception.

The Rio Hacha Market

3. Privilege bags being sold from NGOs
NGOs or Non-Profit Organizations are legally bound to fulfil their purpose, which is of social nature. Instead is the company’s purpose eager to increase profits for their owners. Unfortunately, it is common that also indigenous people pay very little salaries to each others. 

4. Ignore amazon and ebay, where two looped bags can be found for 40 USD. It might be similar to the Wayuu bags, but for sure not an original piece. Bags that are made with little effort are not part of the Wayuu culture. They are simply imitations that drive the original Wayuu bags from the market.

We at Mama Tierra support indigenous women and their children. Is our opinion as Non-Profit Organisation, that all the revenues from their artwork should go back to their community. Their talent should benefit mostly them.