For centuries, agave has been a super fiber for Arhuaco communities. Used in all natural construction, woven rope, bags for vegetable transport and fine mochilas, agave is strong, versatile and sustainable. Also known as fique, maguey and bechu, agave can also be dyed with locally harvested plants.
Agave leaves are cut, stripped with hand tools and dried in the sun by males from the Arhuaco community.Harvesting plants and preparing plant dyes is also a traditional male role.
Domingo Villafane is passionate about teaching the next generation of Arhuaco men (below)
There are two ways to process dry agave strands: spinning by hand with an huso or rolling on the thigh without the use of any tools. The latter makes for a very thin yarn. In either case, the karrumba tightens and connects shorter yarn strands. The karrumba exemplifies cooperation, interdependence and generational connections that form as a result of traditional craft practices.
Elsililiana Villafane (left) and grandmother Florinda Villafane (right) spin agave fiber as younger family members observe.
Agave fiber in its natural state can vary from nearly snow white to banana yellow. Plant dyes are used to achieve a wide range of colors including pink, purple, gray, yellow and orange.
The same technique in creating wool mochilas is utilized when working with agave. Thousands of individually crafted stitches build upon each other.
Agave straps are fingerwoven without the use of any tools. This rigorous method requires firm concentration: any misstep will show up later in the strap. The strap will have to be undone until the misstep is identified.
Working with the agave plant is an Arhuaco tradition. At Mama Mochila, we believe that agave mochilas have been unrecognized and undervalued.
Dubbed as “primitive” hundreds of years ago when the Spanish arrived, agave mochilas were discriminated against, unlike wool, a traditional European fiber. Bringing agave fiber into the spotlight is an important step for the Arhuaco community.
We are proud to honor this sustainable, plant based craft. Mama Mochila is developing new products alongside the Arhuaco community to generate sustainable income while respecting the gifts and limits offered to us by nature.