I visited La Guajira twice in the past two weeks. La Guajira is the Northernmost state in Colombia, bordering Venezuela and running along the Carribean coast. Half of its population is indigenous. I knew very little about the Wayúu before my colleague Santiago and I took a long Jeep ride with Juan Carlos, the Wayúu man who offered me a few insights into their indigenous culture last Friday.
“In the Wayúu culture of La Guajira, we can have as many wives as we can sustain.”
“Did I hear that right?” I wondered silently, figuring my Spanish had hit an all-time low and I mistranslated something. I left Pakistan over a year ago, where polygamy is an accepted part of Islam–wasn’t I in Colombia now?
Santiago, my 55-year-old male colleague laughed as he listened to what might be a man’s dream.
“My grandfather had 54 children from twelve wives. Three of his wives were sisters. I am a better version of my grandfather. I have two wives and three children.”
These stories always fascinate me. Do the wives know each other? What did your grandfather do to support 54 children and twelve wives? How do the women feel about this? Where to begin?
I threw him a softball.
“If Wayúu culture is passed down through the mother, is it important then to have a Wayúu wife? Are your wives Wayúu?”
“Neither of my current wives are Wayúu, but I plan to get myself a Wayúu wife later, when I am old, like 55 or 60.”
“The earth is the Mother (where have I heard this before?), she is static, fertile, waiting for the rain. And we men, we are the clouds, we just rain, rain, rain all over the land. Like bees, we pollinate many flowers.”
Santiago laughed harder, I took notes. One couldn’t make this stuff up.
The evening continued. I joined my colleagues for a celebration of Wayúu dance, a fiesta called the Guacherna, where they served moonshine, homemade Aguardiente, known as Chirrinche. The highlight was listening to some of the best Vallanata bands playing my new favorite instrument, the Cuacharaca–imagine a washboard being played with a spoon.
In the morning, as Santiago and I took a taxi to the airport. I continued asking him about the local Wayúu culture. The cab driver interrupted to add, “My uncle had 46 children and seven wives–three were sisters.”
Could Julie, Kari and I share a husband? Unlikely! (Sisters, if you are reading please call to discuss).
Would you rather allow your parents to select your spouse who you wouldn’t meet until the ceremony or share a spouse with your siblings?
If you had to pick, which you would opt for and why?
(Watch minute one to minute two to get a sense of this fabulous instrument–Cuacharaca– and then watch how it is played in the second video. Really focus on the the Cuacharaca player in the second video. This song is the most famous song in Colombia right now. This is Vallanato–the country western of musica latina and supposedly the best Vallanto bands come from La Guajira).