In the subtropical foothills of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta – the highest coastal mountain range in the world, the indigenous reserve of the Kankuamo is located with Guatapuri at the top – a small village community of Kankuamo who spin, dye, weave and crochet our fique bags.
Mochilas have been around as long as the Kankuamo, and while they began as personal items for spiritual and practical use as well as gifts between family members, they became a symbolic item to be swapped between communities who worked with different dyes and fibres and which acted to solidify friendships and relationships berween neighbouring communities.
In indigenous communities of this region, abundant with both cultivated and wild foods, foraging and a culture of exchange is a fundamental part of everyday life, and so the mochila is a perfect companion to carry the gifts given from land, friend, neighbour or acquaintance.
For the Kankuamo, their chosen material is fique – from the same family as agave, fique is a cactus- like palm harvested, cut and dried into a tough ropey fibre. We love the fibre for its durability and the way it softens and wears over time. It is highly resistant and requires absolutely no pesticides to grow.
While we’ve always loved the design of these bags (I still have my first one which is reaching 13 years old!) we fell more deeply in love with them when we lived the entire process from fibre to dyeing to spinning and crocheting these bags. The spirit of which is done in total community - the dyeing takes place in the gardens and lands of the women, they all gather to build a fire, with harvested plants from the hills around them, someone makes a big chicken soup and the fire and dyeing is attended to as they spin fibre or crochet bags and cook and eat their lunch together, It is such a wonderful example of community and the power of the female lineage. Children play around as women work, talk and laugh together, everyone is doing something and collaboration happens so naturally.
On these days this community feels so peaceful and calm, however the reality of the historic violence and destruction committed on and around them is a reminder of both the fragility and immense strength of this community. Through the most violent years of colonization, and more recently civil war and drug related violence and land poaching, the Kankuamo along with the other indigenous groups of the region have suffered immensely and their lands and way of life continue to be threatened to this day. This is a part of the fique story because the mochila has for the Kankuamo, helped to re-establish and strengthen their cultural identity, allowing women to pass down their traditional knowledge whilst meeting the financial demands of raising families and being the primary carers of their children and grandchildren.
The history of these bags is one of the reasons we love them so much, for us they symbolize recognition and empowerment of indigenous women, whose craft and culture is acknowledged and honoured with the making and wearing of each bag.
Just as these bags are companions to the Kankuamo, we’ve designed our collection to accompany you on your travels near and far, to be vessels for your everyday adventures and to be an intimate reminder of process, patience and the strength of women.
Having worked with these women for over two years, from developing new designs, sizes and colourways, to fundraising for them to set up better production and through the ongoing pandemic, we have now released a collection of beautiful bags which incorporate leather for an even more durable and versatile bag.