Deep in the Colombian Pacific Coast, the Wounaan (people of the rainforest) work tirelessly weaving the werregue fibers into baskets, trays, plates, bowls and even fashion accessories. Werregue crafts are recognized worldwide as unique works of art of great cultural importance.
The resilient fibers used to make these products come from the Werregue palm, which grows only in certain parts of the pacific coast. The men harvest the leaves only during the full moon. It takes months of drying, dyeing and preparing the plant before the fibers are ready to weave. Once ready, the baskets are woven with a spiral technique using one thick chord as the “soul”, weaving it together with smaller colored threads
While it is the women who primarily do the weaving, these crafts represent the only source of income for the Wounaan people, so naturally the whole village participates in one way or another.
Even the smaller pieces, like the colorful bangles, take days to complete. Some of the larger vases taking up to a year.
The cultural significance of these artifacts is a testament to the fact that the Wounaan people and their ways were not so long ago on the brink of extinction. While the flooding during the “niña” phenomenon destroyed many of the lands where the Werregue palm grew, the people themselves were also constantly threatened by the internal conflict in Colombia.
Ultimately, the United Nations intervened and helped regenerate the palms and create a safe space for the Wounaan to live. They have also instituted programs to teach them how to harvest the scarce palms without harming them, thus ensuring their survival for future generations.
It is truly a marvel that this amazing culture and its members are still available to the world.