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Wounaan Weavers of Colombia

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Women show they baskets they have made and brought to sell during a workshop.


Clara shows her baskets at a fair in Colombia.

Here, a woman shows the baskets she brought to sell during our workshop.

Werrengue palm baskets and trays are hand woven by the Wounaan women of the Choco rainforest in western Colombia. They live in small isolated communities along the San Juan River near the isolated Pacific Coast. Hand made basket weaving is a traditional Wounaan practice, both utilitarian and artistic.The original coiled baskets were of natural color and used primarily for storage.The brilliant new designs with elaborate iconography can take up to three months to complete and require enormous skill and artistry. Each design is the creation of the weaver and is one of a kind.


Many Wounaan have fled their indigenous lands in the Choco, due to persistent violence, moved to the city, or migrated up the west coast to Panama.   The community in Panama has dominated the market for these fine baskets.  Land use, drugs, and militia conflicts have resulted in isolation of the Colombian Wounaan.  This group of weavers or about 50-75 members, remains in a small indigenous reserve on the San Juan River.  Selling these baskets is the only means of financial support for them.



The inner coiled core of the basket is made up of a variety of plants, while the design is woven with the fine fibers of chunga, or black palm, (Astrocarium standelyanum), also called güerregue or werregue.  Natural dyes come from many different plants and their combinations. 


It is men who harvest the spear leaves of the chunga, which is the new growth at the top of the palm.  Because of the spines on the trunk of the palm, this is accomplished with the use of a moon-shaped metallic blade that is attached to a long straight tree branch.

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Constructing the pole used for harvesting the chunga leaves.

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The trunk of this palm is covered with long sharp spines.

Harvesting upper palm leaves

Harvesting upper palm leaves

Stripping the leaves.

Harvesting the fibers

The women strip and peel the leaves to obtain the fine inner fibers which are then twisted to create threads for weaving.

Drying the leaves

Drying the leaves and dyed fibers.

Drying the dyed fibers

The Wounaan excel at the creation of bold and beautiful natural dyes.

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