Los chivos and the changing landscape of Wayuu existence

As we drove north-east of Riohacha, the vegetation became sparse, the land drier and the sun more intense. While still in the car, we could see the horizon on our three sides with the mountains of Venezuela to the far east.

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This land is an endless desert with cactus- tuna and cordon (used to make Yotojoro) and sparse thorny bushes and native Divi Divi and Trupillo trees.

The Wayuus, who are traditionally farmers, hold their chivos or the goats like a treasure. The chivos/goats are passed on from one generation to the next, exchanged between families on important occasions, given in compensation and sometimes taken as a punishment for a mistake or crime.

They not only represent the material wealth or social capacity a Wayuu family has, but also are a source of food. Hence, the gifting of chivos for marriages and births is a way of sharing prosperity and ensuring food security for the recipients. Particularly in marriages, the husband has to pay a bride price to marry the girl to her father. This is considered the price of the blood the woman will shed while giving birth to their future child. The bride price often involves chivos and other material possessions that the groom or his family may have.

Chivos are also given/received on occasions of death and war (to pay the price of blood) and at times exchanged for land, favours, services and other material possessions.
A death in a Wayuu community is followed by 4-6 days of rituals where the entire community, family, and friends are invited to share the grief and feasts of cooked chivos and chicha (fermented maize).

Over the years, the number of chivos has grown and they have ended up being the only secure food source for the Wayuus. Overgrazing has led to the loss of the little vegetation this desert has and makes it difficult for the soil to recuperate. 

Today, the Wayuus live in a nightmare dependent completely on the meager harvest from their farms, the world food project and the oil from Venezuela.

The petrol market outside Uribia

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According to a Wayuu, the Wayuus are experiencing too many changes outside (political) and inside (in the community) particularly since last three generations. Puerto Bolivar on the north coast of Colombia is the point of access in and out from Colombia. The coal miners, the drug mafia and the oil mafia, all are using it to ship things out and they need more and more people to execute these shipments. The Wayuus have found easy money in these jobs and “has led to the corruption in the fabric of the Wayuu community.”

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