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WHO ARE THEY

WHO ARE THEY

Wayuu (also Wayu, Wayúu, Guajiro, Wahiro) is an Indigenous South American ethnic group of the Guajira Peninsula in northern most part of Colombia and northwest Venezuela.

The Wayuu language is part of the Maipuran (Arawak) language family. Wayuu indigenous people have their own language, the women are hard workers, very wise and disciplined with their skills and craftsmanship. A traditional Wayuu settlement is made up of five or six houses that made up caserios or rancherias. Each ranchería is named after a plant, animal or geographic place. A territory that contains many rancherias is named after the mother's last name; that is, society is matrilineal. The Wayuu congregated in rancherias are usually isolated and far from each other to avoid mixing their goat heards.

Children are born at home, assisted by the mother-in-law or the nearest female relative. Puberty is not very important among boys, but girls are exposed to rituals as early as 12 years old or when they start menstruating, requiring them to go through a period of seclusion for anywhere from two months up to two years. Girls are obliged to shave their heads and rest in a chinchorro or large hammock. During this period, Wayuu girls are taught how to be a wife in which a large part consists of cooking and learning the art of crocheting Wayuu bags. She is also fed with a special vegetarian diet called Jaguapi, and bathes frequently.

Women play important roles in the society, but it is not quite a matriarchal one. The Wayuu want their women to be wise and mature. Nearly all marriages are arranged and accompanied by a dowry, which is given to the mother's brothers and uncles. Young girls are promised to men of the clan as young as 11 years old, around the time they are becoming of child-bearing age. The perceived intention is to wed her to a man before risking that pregnancy out of wedlock or arrangement, a cause of great social shame, specifically for the woman's family's honor and credibility. Men may have multiple wives (polygamy).

The Wayuu believe that the life cycle does not end with death, but that a relationship with one's bones continues. Burials are very important. The relatives of the dead act in a certain way: first, the body is buried with personal belongings; after five years, the bones are exhumed, put into ceramics or a chinchorro (hammock), and reburied in the clan's cemetery.