The Wayuu, a Colombian ethnic group from La Guajira

The Wayuu people are an ethnic group that lives in the peninsula of La Guajira where their territory spans between Colombia and Venezuela, without frontiers. There are over 250,000 Wayuus, most of whom live in the municipality of Uribia, scattered throughout the territory.

It is the largest indigenous community in Colombia (about 25% of the country’s total indigenous population.) They speak Spanish but also their native language, Wayuunaiki.

The Wayuu people are matrilineal, organized in family clans. Currently, there are 30 clans in the region.

The Wayuus live in Rancherías, small villages with several homes nearby. In these rancherías usually live relatives of the same clan and each ranchería is conformed of approximately 5 families.

There are 22,927 rancherías located in the 10 municipalities where the Wayuu Indians live: Uribia, Maicao, Albania, Hatonuevo, Barrancas, Fonseca, Dibulla, Riohacha, Manaure and Distracción.

Their main economy is based on activities like shing and shepherding, but they also cultivate corn, beans, cassava, auyama, cucumbers, melons and watermelon. Livestock is the main sign of wealth in the Wayuu culture, as sheep and goat are their exchange currency.

Historically, the lack of drinkable water is the greatest threat to this community. The Wayuus used to obtain water from the jagueys, a large system of reservoirs built during the regime of Rojas Pinilla (president of Colombia in the 1950s.) Now, these jagueys are dry but when it rains they fill up and are used for personal grooming. 


Its main economic activities are fishing and grazing, but also have maize, beans, cassava, auyama, cucumbers, melons and watermelon.

Livestock is still the main representation of wealth in the Wayuu cultural field, since sheep-goats are their currency of exchange.


Historically the lack of Vital Water is the greatest threat to the community. The Wayuus used to obtain Water from the Jagueys, large reservoirs built in the regime of Rojas Pinilla. These magueys at the moment are dry but if it rains are filled, and used for the consumption of personal cleanliness.

how they live


Life conditions for the Wayuus are not optimal: La Guajira is in a constant drought with rainfall only every 3 years or so. The land is a desert and because of its great extension, long distances greatly limit the water supply.

This leads to many children dying from dehydration, malnutrition or bacterial diseases. In the last ve years, 4770 children have died. The gures on malnutrition are high and are in line with what was predicted by the ENSIN 2010 survey (National Survey on the State of Nutrition,) which revealed that 59% of the region’s indigenous population didn’t have guaranteed access to food sources.

Therefore, a prompt solution is required. According to the ICBF (Colombian Institute of Family Welfare,) 50% of the population are under 17 years old, meaning that the population is very young and they have great potential to grow, but the children are dying and they have to be protected. 

In 2009, the Wayuu people were classified as one of the 34 villages with the highest risk of physical and cultural extinction.

The State and all institutions must guarantee the rights of survival in the face of the excessive consequences of the armed conflict in their ancestral territories.

This purpose must be met with the formulation of ethnic safeguard plans for each of these peoples. However, none of the nine safeguard plans constructed and submitted by indigenous communities have been implemented due to non-compliance with institutional commitments and lack of coordination among State entities.


Corruption in this department has not allowed the community to receive potable water solutions from the government.