Latin America and the Caribbean




November 2016

Main Themes

Cultural assets, Rural tourism, Gender


IFAD, FORD Foundation

Learning Territory: Cultural Identity-linked Business

“Weiyatein waijain, we show what we do”

In La Guajira, a department located in the Caribbean coast of Colombia, members of the Wayúu indigenous community have been running businesses based on the cultural and heritage assets of their territory for 10 years, consolidating successful crafts, design and fashion, and ethnotourism entrepreneurships.

By implementing these business initiatives the community has positively contributed to the economic dynamism of the department, improving the quality of life of its inhabitants and achieving preservation and enhancement of the natural resources and cultural and ethnic diversity they possess. The latter is evident in the activities permanently developed and designed to strengthen the traditional cultural education, encouraging the use of native language, rescuing and innovating ancient crafts techniques and promoting the use of educational spaces for cultural formation and economic valorization of the culture heritage available for the community.


What successful solutions have the Learning Territory’s entrepreneurships implemented?

An initiative led by traditionally renowned master artisans’ women who, along with working collectively in developing handloom fabrics that rescue ancient techniques and designs, create spaces for local Wayúu cultural identity recovery and promotion. To this end, they have implemented an innovative ethno-education strategy, which combines the strengthening of productive associativity and economic development of communities, with the claim of indigenous rights and the promotion of cultural identity.

Recently, various associations led by the Masters Teachers officially created the first National Federation of Wayúu Artisans - FENARWAYUU, in order to influence the establishment of policies, programs and projects to strengthen sector’s development, as well as giving visibility to craftswomen as social and economic agents in the region and the country.

  • International designers use Wayuu fabrics in their creations.
  • Craftswomen have participated in multiple national and international events and fairs.
  • Led by the Masters Teachers, 10 guilds with about 3,000 artisans, form the National Federation of Artisans Wayúu- FENARWAYUU.

Ranchería is the family and ancestral organization of the Wayúu community, space where they develop and disseminate their cultural expressions in coexistence and harmony with the natural environment. In the Rancheria Iwouyaa, led by the traditional authority of Cecilia Acosta and her daughter, they have developed an ethnotourism focused business model, combining the valorization of cultural assets for the development of income-generating initiatives, with the strengthening of ethnic youth formation through ethno-school.

Ethnotourism model encourages families and youth, culturally educated for the preservation of tangible and intangible cultural features, to seize this unique knowledge as an opportunity to generate income on the basis of responsible tourism, self-determined by the principles and limits of the Wayúu culture.

  • They have shared their enriching experience promoting business development with cultural identity with other national and international indigenous communities.
  • 18 families from 8 Wayúu communities are actively involved in the business.
  • They count with important national and international entities recognition and certification.

Located in Cabo de la Vela, the most emblematic natural attraction area of La Guajira, is a leading ethnotourism entrepreneurship that combines the cultural assets of the Wayúu culture with products and services innovations that friendly bring people to the community`s environment and culture, thus achieving a tourism business development that values the biocultural wealth of the territory.

This ethnotourism company stands out with the common tourism offer found in Cabo de la Vela by dynamically combining top quality services with Wayúu living conditions and cultural traditions. As part of its development process, Ranchería Utta has been associated with other tourism business initiatives in Cabo de la Vela, to consolidate a movement that seeks to re-evaluate this sacred territory of the Wayúu community as a destination with high added value.

  • They are members of the Colombian Caribbean Alliance of Tourism Entrepreneurships -ALTUR and the Colombian Association of Toursim and Travel Agencies-ANATO.
  • They cooperate with 25 tourism services providers in the area.
  • They have achieved a preminent position in the local ethnic tourism market, standing out among more than 80 initiatives of local rancherías.

It arises from the removal of the Wayúu community from Caracolí y Espinal zone of La Guajira, due to the coal mining needs of multinational companies. After a long struggle to consolidate and implement opportunities for the development of its members, its traditional authorities - Alaulayu - and youth from shelter communities, built through a participatory process their Plan de Vida (Life Plan). In it, they expressed their proposals seeking to answer the following questions: Who are we? What are we looking for? and How will we do it?

Seeking to preserve Wayúu culture for future generations and to ensure the food supply for the community, productive projects emerged from this plan such as the construction of a Livestock Integrated Farm and the development of a Fish farming project. In a different field, and with the idea of rescuing and spreading the wealth of their culture, the A’inmaja Project was implemented, featuring television and radio spaces with high end technological equipment.

  • Reservation originally consisting of 35 displaced families and currently organized in 3 communities.
  • In 2012 they built their Plan de Vida, representing an example for other similar organizations that do not have a long-term planning.

Constituted by women dedicated to the production of various traditional woven accessories, featuring the traditional Wayúu backpack as their main creation. They have managed to implement a coordinated production system, in which each artisan specializes in the manufacture of a special piece for each product, which is then assembled with the rest in the workshop.

Craftswomen have established important alliances with various public and private institutions, through which accessing multiple benefits in the areas of training, funding and support in market access. This is how their traditional products compete on quality and design in domestic and foreign markets, notably improving their income, while spreading their community’s cultural heritage.

  • 3 craft workshops, composed by 50 women.
  • They have participated in important fairs and business meetings, in which they have disseminated and marketed their products.

Fashion and clothing industry is a business development niche of which Wayúu community is taking advantage by linking international fashion trends with ethnic elements for productive innovation. That’s how LUZENA and BERTA ENRIQUEZ Workshops have achieved an important position on national and international fashion runways, while representing a real income generation alternative for women working in the production of these valued garments, and accessories.

During the Learning Territory, LUZENA Workshop protagonists, an initiative led by traditional artisans, share their experience characterized by incorporating new elements of fashion and design in the development of their products, taking Wayúu craftmanship to a new place of development and recognition. For its part, craftswomen from BERTA ENRIQUEZ Workshop, a design and manufacture entrepreneurship which incorporates hand woven pieces in its products and coordinates the craft work of Wayúu women with fashion product development, share key elements for implementing innovation processes with marketing insight in craft activities.

  • From their participation in the workshops, more than 50 women artisans have achieved an important source of income.
  • Their products are sold in national and international markets, also being part of important fashion shows.


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