In Arhuaco culture, mochila making reflects a woman’s journey from girlhood to womanhood to motherhood. Around the age of five, girls accompany older relatives in spinning plant and wool fiber. Before turning eight years old, girls begin to experiment with their first mochilas, made from agave fiber.
Wool: Origins & Process
Sourcing wool that is sustainably and ethically produced is a top priority for Mama Mochila. Sheep were introduced to Colombia in the late 15th century by Spanish colonizers. However, some studies cite presence of sheep native to Colombia. Our mochilas are made from sheep raised by Arhuaco families and small scale farmers in the Boyaca region. We verify that sheep are raised in free-range conditions and do not use wool that is a by-product of the meat industry.
Raw fleece is washed in nearby rivers and streams without soap and dried on large stones. Clean fleece is combed for material such as dried stems, and prepped for spinning, entirely by hand, without the use of carders.
An huso, above, is a traditional spinning tool. Santiago Torres (below) hand carves an huso from locally harvested wood.
Spinning wool symbolizes an integral aspect of Arhuaco culture: unity with the spirit of mother nature. The process links generations as they work together to clean raw fleece and spin fine yarn. Blasina Torres adjusts for width of yarn alongside her daughter, Margarita (below).
Kurkunu, below, is then used to spin the fiber into a double strand. Requiring two to three people to work together, the process relies on collaboration and interdependence.
Blasina Torres, her niece Avelina Villafane and Avelina’s grandmother, Florinda Villafane working together (below).
Caring for sheep, shearing, cleaning raw fleece and spinning wool is a complex process that involves and unites all ages and genders within Arhuaco families. Mama Mochila does not support the use of industrially spun or processed wool as this inherently ruptures the cultural and community significance of tutuisin, mochila making.
The transformation of raw fleece to double strand yarn (left to right).
Sacred Creation: Body, Strap & Symbol
Historically, Arhuacos used slender bones, then carved wood pieces as their tools to create the mochila body. Today, artisans use a simple sewing needle to make thousands of loops, building vertically. This technique is what makes mochilas durable and even capable of carrying water. Our medium mochilas take about one month to complete, while practicing the traditional Arhuaco lifestyle.
Blasina (below) is working on a Snowy Peaks mochila.
The strap is fingerwoven, without any tools. A medium strap can require up to 80 individual strands. Artisans draw from many variations of strap designs. An example of diverse strap elements created by Mayerlis Villafane (below).
The strap is attached to the body of the mochila with a specific technique. Finishing touches such as the braid at the top of the mochila follow.
It takes more than a decade for Arhuaco women to become fluent in the art of mochila creation. Mama Mochila supports artists committed to this tradition, a cornerstone of Arhuaco culture.