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Mochila Crochet – History

Mochila Crochet – History

(pic courtesy the internet)

Ever since I saw these intricately woven bags on the internet especially in crochet groups, I have been intrigued by them. Recently I took part in a CAL by Marion Verloop to learn ths technique. This tapestry technique is fascinating and so addictive that I lost no time in googling information about it.

History of the Mochila

The Wayuu is a  ethnic group of the Guajira Peninsula in northern Colombia and northwest Venezuela. The Wayuu people are a Matriarchal society and it is the women who weave the Mochila bags. Yes…it was first woven on looms and was a weaving technique.

Wayyu history says that their women were originally taught how to weave the bags and create the complex patterns that make up the design by the God  Wale Keru,who is symbolised by the Spider

Although the whole Arhuaco community is involved in production, only Wati (Arhuaco women) can weave the bags together according to custom. Traditionally, the women learn to weave from an early age by watching their mothers. When a girl first attains puberty she is kept isolated for 6 months or so. This is when she is taught to weave, to cook, to bring up children and all the chores that a woman must know.

The first mochila a woman makes is given to the priest for the rituals of the life cycle. A traditional Wayuu settlement is made up of five or six houses that made up caserios or rancherías. 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 herds.

Later as the Spanish conquered South America, the nuns introduced crochet to the Wayuu people, who ingeniously incorporated their magnificent heritage of Kanas(patterns) into creating these beautiful bags. Thus Mochila Crochet  was born.

Here while the woman make the bags it is the  Men who weave weave the straps…

Wayuu culture is known for crafts such as bags or mochilas. There are many styles of mochilas. A susu is a backpack typically 20cm-30cm wide and 35cm high, used to store personal and work items. Characteristic for the fabrics are the decorating patterns inspired by nature and what the culture sees around.

The colors with which the mochilas are woven are earth tones, ranging from brown and beige to black and gray. Normally a bag wil take from 20 days to 30 days to make.

Yarn used for the Mochila

Originally they were woven with natural fibers from the Arahuaco lands, such as agave and cotton. The Spanish introduced sheep’s wool and currently mochilas are made with cotton yarn  and industrial fibers.

You can also make the Mochila with cotton thread provided it is taken in double strength..that means 2 strands work as one. To make the normal  size you would probably have to double the number of rows as well.

How the Arahuaca People use the Mochila

Arhuaco men traditionally use three bags:

1. Chige Kwanu, to save personal belongings,

2. Zizhu, to carry cocoa leaves,

3. Another one for food storage or travel items.

They also used a fourth one called masi, to hold their poporo.

The women carry the tutu gawa made of agave. The tutu chakeai and jina kau (white, cotton, without drawings) are marunsama backpacks or mamu (spiritual sage of the arhuaco).

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.

Meaning of Mochila

The Mochila Arhuaca, or tutu iku in Ika, is a popular Colombian artisan bag made by the Arhuaco people of the Sierra Nevada.

In Spanish it means A knapsack, Back pack, Haver sack or a Saddle Pouch,

Thus Mochila Arahuaca simply means a backpack of the Arahuaca people.

In the olden times, the Spanish who had invaded South America used these bags as saddle bags to carry the mail on ponies. It was a square leather saddle covering having openings for the horn and cantle and sometimes equipped with saddlebags. Many riders and even more ponies carried the mail, but only the mochila made the entire trip.

Mochila Technique

Is basically Single crochet, but in a slightly different manner….so that we now call it the Modified Single Crochet ..this is used extensively in tapestry crochet and Mochila crochet and helps to define geometric figures especially straight lines.

  1. You crochet only in the back loop
  2. You first crochet Yarn Over(YO) then you have two loops on your hook
  3. Then you crochet Yarn Under(YU) …and pull the yarn through both the loops completing the Modified single crochet stitch.

Significance of the Kanas or Patterns

A Kanas or a pattern in Mochila technique signifies many things…usually it pertains to the woman who is weaving the bag. It could be her perception of her life or the life around her. Certain tribes or villages have their own distinct patterns. So a Kanas is not an arbitrary design. It is well thought out and is a cultural as well as a personal emblem for the Wayuu people. Patterns have different names, including Molokonoutaya, Pulikerüüya, Pasatalo’ouya, Marüliunaya, Antajirasüyaa and many more.

The bags usually carry indigenous drawings or representations of animals and other objects of their cosmology. Each design identifies families, some of the most important are:

the gamako (the frog), the symbol of fertility,

the zikamu (the centipede),

the aku (the rattlesnake),

which symbolizes time and space,

Peynu (the comb),

Kutia (ribs),

Kaku serankua (the creator of the Sierra father),

Makuru (the vulture),

Gwirkunu (the hills and lakes), urumu (the snail),

Sariwuwu (the months of pregnancy),

Kunsamunu a’mia (the thought of women),

Kunsamunu cheyrua (human thought),

Kanzachu (tree leaf),

Chinuzatu (the four corners of the world),

Kambiru (scorpion tail or scribble),

Phundwas (the snowy peaks of the Sierra)

Garwa (the father of the roads).

Types of Kanas or Patterns

Each mochila is different because of its colors, patterns, and thread tension. However, there are certain patterns that have recognized names within the community. Wayuu patterns derive from traditional designs called kaanás (weaving drawing). Kaanás are generally geometric compositions that repeat throughout the making interconnected patterns, each of which receives a name that expresses its meaning.

Do check out the link below….to understand the different type of patterns.

https://wayuu-mochila-bags.com/about-us/blog/faqs-wayuu-mochila-bags/wayuu-patterns/

I do hope this post answers your basic queries on Mochila Crochet.