Colombia’s Wayuu: Still Holding on at the Top of the Continent

Wayuu children at Playa del Pilón de Azúcar, Cabo de la Vela, Colombia (Photo by Ken Kelley)

by Ken Kelley

Sitting for hours in the market of Uribia in the Colombian department of La Guajira, watching indigenous Wayuu women in long flowing dresses selling smuggled gasoline and other Venezuelan wares, I started to wonder if I would ever reach the tiny fishing village of Cabo de la Vela on the Guajira Peninsula.

I kept getting conflicting stories as to whether the truck for Cabo had already left and whether there would be another that day. I was almost ready to backtrack to the city of Riohacha when two more travelers appeared, followed by the truck, into which were then loaded all kinds of goods plus myself and the other passengers. We set off.

Located on the northernmost tip of South America, the arid Guajira Peninsula straddles the border of Venezuela and Colombia. Until recently, it was rarely visited by outsiders, due in part to its Wild West reputation as a hub for trafficking in humans, drugs, and other items, and as the home of the strong-willed Wayuu, who were never subjugated by the Spanish and who have lived on their own terms in the La Guajira desert for centuries.

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