Guahibo Indians

Guahibo Indians (Gwah-hee-boh) live in the Amazon Basin of South America. Both men and women make a variety of handcrafts. The women make dolls from bark and fiber, decorated with seeds. They also weave baskets and hair barrettes using a coil technique with  fibers found in the rain forest as well as traditional skirts and dresses with cloth made of pounded palm fibers. The women also make back packs and various kinds of bags using knotting techniques with palm fibers. The Guahibo men are accomplished wood carvers, carving ritual weapons or sculptures. The Guahibo have been affiliated with the Catholic Church for some time and their art often reflects a religious theme.

Located along the Orinoco River in South America are a group of South American Indians who have made a lifestyle out of using their environment to make authentic crafts. The Guahibo tribe have a prominent presence, most notably in the countries of Colombia and Venezuela. Depending on the area, the uses of the words Guajibo and Sikuani, are also used to describe this Indian tribe, though references to the Sikuani are typically seen as a derogatory term by some.

With their own dialect, called the Guahibian language, over 30,000 citizens between the two countries are native to this tribe. While only 45% of all Guahibian people are literate, a large number of them have found a suitable lifestyle for themselves and their tribe by working with their hands. Over the years, many of their products have found a home in the National Museum of the American Indian as a representation of their excellent craftsmanship.

Though the Guahibo do not have a commercial economy, the art of handcrafting has become a source of pride for women in the tribe and a token item for the tourists that come to visit them. Bark and fiber are traditionally used to make items ranging from authentic dolls to traditional skirts and dresses that can either be sold abroad and worn themselves. Pounded palm fibers are also used to make everyday items such as backpacks and carrying cases. The men, on the other hand, pursue other crafts. Wood carving, often with the intent of making weapons, is an example of a popular task for them.

Wood Carvings

Tradition is important to the Guahibo and many traditions have lived on based on the teaching of the tribe’s elders. Jesus Morales, for example, is a native Guahibo who resides in Coromoto, Venezuela. With the help of an older man in the village, Morales has been a carver for nine years and has found a niche craft that holds him highly regarded among his people. Morales has become known for his mural images of Christ, ranging from crucifixes to rosaries, that he can use to barter or sell. These authentic items are made from the unique Brazilian tree and with wood so plentiful, the artist has even made items large enough to fit in church settings.

art

Guahibo wood carver

Bark Clothing

This hand made Indian dress is made by pounding the inner fiber palm bark until it is fabric-like. It can then be cut and stitched. This dress is decorated at the neck with natural dyed fibers stitched onto the bark. Making clothing from palm bark is becoming a lost art.

guahibo indians

Knotted Bags

Another popular item are knotted baskets, which can be made in the form of ornaments or trays for storage or display. Different designs can vary from light to tan fabrics, with many of the coiled finished products made from local grass fiber found on the land.

bag is knotted in an extremely fine pattern back pack that is made from palm fibers
This bag is knotted in an extremely fine pattern. The bottom of the bag is made with the coil technique. The bottom is 7 1/2′ in diameter. The body of the bag is 10″ tall not including the long strap. This is a back pack that is made from palm fibers using the finger knotting technique similar to how they made hammocks. It is large with two shoulder straps in the back and a small coiled bottom. The body of the bag measures 18″ not including straps.
little bag hand coiled large Guahibo tray
This beautiful little bag is hand knotted. The body of the bag measures 7 1/2″ tall and 7″ wide. This finger knotted bag has an oval coiled bottom that continues up to make stiff sides before the knotting begins. The oval bottom measures 8″ x 5 1/2″. The knotted part is another 4 inches up to the long strap.

 

guahibo basket

Hair Barrettes and Dolls

In addition to clothing and carrying items, the making of hair accessories is also a craft that is unique to the Guahibo. Made in the same style which are used for woven baskets, women’s hair barrettes are a popular item that stands out by using natural dyes that are found within the Amazon forest. After creating the outline of the item, a stick of Brazilian wood is typically threaded in two places through the center and when worn, used to hold that barrette firmly in place. Other barrettes are made from a style that unique to the Guahibo called a “coil technique.”

basketry hair barrettes These basketry hair barrettes are hand woven and dyed with natural dyes by the Guahibo Indians of the Amazon rain forest. A carved stick, usually of Brazil wood, hold the barrette in place, approximately 4″ by 2 1/2″.
hair barrettes These unusual hair barrettes are made by the Guahibo Indians using their traditional coil techniques. Average stick length is 7″, average width of woven part 4″.
hand made dolls These dolls are hand made and feature dresses of pounded bark or loose or woven fibers. These dolls include a fiber string on the head so that the little girls can “put them away” by hanging them with the other family belongings. They average from 7 1/2″ to 10″ tall.

 

dolls are hand made and feature dresses of pounded bark or loose or woven fibers. dolls are hand made and feature dresses of pounded bark or loose or woven fibers. dolls are hand made and feature dresses of pounded bark or loose or woven fibers.
These dolls feature a woven dress of fiber. They average from 8″ to 10″ tall. These dolls feature dresses made of pounded bark cloth. They average from 8″ to 10″ tall. These larger bark cloth dolls are of mothers with a baby. They average from 10″ to 12″ tall.

 

Guahibo monkey doll made of fibers with a hand knotted covering Guahibo monkey doll made of fibers with a hand knotted covering, very unusual. 17″ tall.

 

guahibo pottery figure Guahibo Pottery figure with hand painted details.

 

Hand carved wooden crucifix
Hand carved wooden crucifix on a hand made fiber cord. Hangs 14″ in length, crucifix is approx. 1″ x 1 1/2″.

Coil Baskets

The Guahibo Indians use a coil technique with a local grass fiber to produce their interesting baskets. A coil technique involves creating the item with a series of ingrained loops – a technique that is also popular and familiar in the making of pottery.

hand coiled large Guahibo tray
Beautifully hand coiled large Guahibo tray measures 18 1/2″ by 8 1/2″.

guahibo basket guahibo basket
Woven “Cat Mat” – 9 1/2″ tall 12 3/4″ wide
guahibo basket guahibo basket
14 1/2″ wide 10 1/4″ wide

Necklaces

Guahibo hand made necklaces of seeds hang to approx. 13″

Guahibo hand made necklaces of seeds Guahibo hand made necklaces of seeds
With monkey tooth.
Guahibo hand made necklaces of seeds Guahibo hand made necklaces of seeds
With monkey tooth.
Guahibo hand made necklaces of seeds Guahibo hand made necklaces of seeds
Guahibo hand made necklaces of seeds Guahibo hand made necklaces of seeds

Rattles

Rattles are made of calabash gourds and trimmed with feathers. They are used for sacred ceremonies and dances.

Rattles are made of calabash gourds Rattles are made of calabash gourds
Approx. 15″ tall. Approx. 14 1/2″ tall.

Blowguns

Both Guahibo men and women make a variety of handicrafts. The men hunt with both bow and arrows and blowguns. They are also skilled in the making of these weapons. They make small blowguns for the hunting of birds and larger ones for mammals. These small Guahibo blowguns are decoratively covered with a type of woven plant fibers.

guahibo blowgun

Photos property of Hands Around the World unless noted.


south america

Additional Information

Modern Alphabets
Guahibo language
Guahibo and Chiricoa – Britannica.com
IFAD through Photography – Colombia

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