Chirrinchi is a kind of rum that is distilled mainly in the Colombian Caribbean. It is especially famous among the Wayuu. If you keep your eyes open or ask around while in La Guajira you will find small private Chirrinchi distilleries almost everywhere.
The process starts by mixing sugar can sugar, water, and yeast. The fermentation takes about 5-8 days. Afterwards a simple alemic distillery is used to separate the alcohol from the water. The distillation process is usually performed twice and produces an alcoholic drink with 35% alcohol.
Many Wayuu drink the Chirrinchi pure. However, there are different traditional and modern preparation methods. For example, traditionally the indigenous put a piece of “Contramata” (see Figure 2) into their Chirrinchi bottles. An alternative to Contramata is a piece of the bark of a Brazilwood tree. It will give the drink a red color.
More modern preparations include the addition of Anise. Some Wayuu claim that Coquiche has the best taste. Coquiche is prepared by adding Coconuts and leaving it for some days. It is said the Coconut sucks-up the bad tastes of the distillation process.
Humans search for explanations for the world that surrounds them. The Guajira peninsula is rich of tales and mystic places from the Wayuu mythology. The tales are about questions like: Where do the Wayuu come from? How did the Wayuu learn their weaving-technique? Where do the Wayuu clan symbols clan symbols come from? What happens after death?
In this article we want to introduce some of the most important people and places from the Wayuu mythology. For an in-depth introduction we refer to publications of anthropologists who gathered, analyzed and published the tales. Unfortunately, almost all sources are in Spanish or Wayuunaiki. See our bibliography.
It is said that “Maleiwa” (pronounced “Mareiwa”) is the creator of the Wayuu. No one has ever seen her. However, there exist many different tales about her. It is said she lives in the Macuira mountains.
Indigenous all over the Guajira peninsula tell stories about places that are said to have a Pulowi living there. A Pulowi is a female spirit associated with places related to water (e.g. lakes, rivers, or beaches) where somebody died. The Wayuu avoid bathing or spending the night at those places. It is very likely that you get in touch with Pulowi while traveling the Guajira peninsula.
The Wolunka rock is located at the Macuira mountains close to Nazareth and the Alewolou dune. “Wolunka” is the name of a girl who was the daughter of the rain and the earth. She used to bath naked beneath the rock. One day one youngster shot her with a bow and an arrow into her vagina. According to Wayuu mythology this is why women menstruate.
Jepira is a hill located at Cabo de la Vela. The Wayuu believe that Jepira is the place where the souls of the death travel to. The hill is a common destinations for tourists who visit Cabo de la Vela. The hill is also called “sugar loaf” due to its bright color. As of today, there is a Maria statue on top of Jepira which shows how the ancient beliefs get undermined by western missionaries.
Rock of Aalas
It is said that Maileiwa sent the wise man Uutta to gather the Wayuu families at the rock of Aalas. A lightning hit the rock and burned symbols into the rock. From that day on every Wayuu family gets identified by their symbol. The symbols are used to mark animals and also for art.
Piedra del Destino
The “Destiny Rock” is located in the north-east of the Guajira peninsula. It hosts a cave with an entry and an exit hole. Several tales report from people who entered the destiny rock and were not able to leave it through the exit hole. The ones who failed lost their lifes in accidents short after. It is said that it does not matter whether you are fat or thin, tall or short. The rock can become impassable for everyone or widen itself to let you pass.
During my stay in Colombia I did research on the history of the Guajira and the Wayuu indigenous. I encountered a reference to a historic travel report of the French explorer Héliodore Candeliere. He traveled the Guajira peninsula 125 years ago. It took me quiet some effort to get access to a physical copy of the book. On my last day before I returned to Germany I was able to take a copy of it. Since I liked the book so much I thought it would be worth to make this document accessible in English. So, the book got translated from French to English and can now be downloaded as ebook. I payed attention that the historic characteristic is maintained as good as possible in the electronic version. I also improved the quality of the figures.
In his mid-thirties, Héliodore is a successful solicitor, the founder of the national shooting society, and a loving family father. Despite his traditional life style, deep in his heart, he is an explorer who always wanted to travel the world. His family pushed him into a traditional life style and as he got older he gave up on his dreams.
One day, Héliodore meets an old school friend who reports him from his time in Panama and at the Colombian Caribbean coast. This encounter triggers something in Héliodore. He gets obsessed with the idea of organizing an expedition to the Guajira peninsula – the home of the Wayuu indigenous. One day, he and his family decide that he will go on a three year expedition for the Société de Géographie de Paris to South America.
In his travel report, Héliodore describes how it was like to travel from Europe to Colombia at the end of the 19th century. Riohacha was still a small town and the last outpost before the untamed Guajira peninsula. Diseases like paludian fever were a common threat threre. During his stay at the Guajira peninsula, Héliodore studies the customs, language, and laws of the Wayuu indigenous. His book is also a testimony of the conflicts between the “civilized” and “uncivilized” world.
After 125 years, Héliodore’s travel report is available for the first time in English.
The Wayuu culture can be quiet different to the western culture. One example is an incident happened in 2017 where suddenly almost all donkeys of Alta Guajira disappeared.
Beside goats, donkeys are probably the second most important animals for the Wayuu: they are used to carry water. One donkey carries about 60-70kg of water. The Wayuu all over the La Guajira peninsula tell the same story: Suddenly, in 2017 the donkeys disappeared. One after the other. The locals report always the same: somebody came during night and slaughtered the donkeys that were outside the ranch. Only the leather was taken and the meat was left behind. This went on for about six months until almost all donkeys had been killed.
Who was it?
If you ask the locals who killed their donkeys the answers are often very vague. Most say they don’t know. This is hardly imaginable. There are eyes behind every Yosu cactus. Nothing happens without somebody noticing it. Especially, when it goes on over months. It is said the leather got sold on the markets in Uribia and Maicao. But nobody knows where it went to afterwards.
For the victims the loss of the donkeys is very serious. For example, in Nueva York the locals spend about four hours daily for getting water. They have only one donkey left, two got killed. Without the two donkey they have to walk twice instead of once a day. If you ask enough people someone will tell you who it was. In Nueva York they are convinced that the neighbors to the north west committed the crime. However, they don’t do much about it.
In the Wayuu culture, when they catch the suspect while killing the donkey the local “palabrero” (speaker) will tell the attackers to pay a compensation to the victims. For example, a donkey is worth 400.000 COP and this is payed as compensation. But the damage is much bigger than the donkey. It takes years to breed new donkeys that are necessary for carrying water. The suspect has almost nothing to lose. In the worst case he only pays what he earned on the market. There is almost no police in Alta Guajira and the Wayuu prefer the traditional way of handling problems anyway.
If you ask why the neighbors killed the donkeys the victims tell you something like “Well, they needed money”. For many, even the victims, this seems to be a good reason. During my time in Alta Guajira I asked many Wayuu about this problem to better understand their reasoning. They take it like something caused by force of nature. For westerners it is hard to understand why they don’t do more against the suspects. It is one of the things where you notice that they have a completely different mindset and cultural background.
Many tourists traveling La Guajira like to buy Wayuu Bags, also called “Mochilas”. You can find many sellers at the seaside of Riohacha and at Cabo de la Vela. However, often the quality is not the best or the Wayuu sell the bags to a discount price that is not adequate to their good work.
The center for high-quality Wayuu bags of Alta Guajira is in Nazareth at a place called “Paraiso” (paradies). You can walk there in about 10-15min from the center of the village. Just ask the locals for “paraiso” and “mochila”. The bags are produced by a cooperative. There is another cooperative in Sipana. It is not uncommon that men also crochet Wayuu bags.
On his first trip to the Americas, Christopher Columbus took some notes where he describes for the first time the use of hammocks by Amerindians on Caribbean islands. As of today, on the entire La Guajira peninsula the use of hammocks is very wide-spread. The Wayuu call their hammocks “chinchorro”. The difference is that chinchorros are usually bigger more comfortable to sleep in as normal hammocks.