Cuiba bearer teaching during a generational transmission workshop. ©

British Council

The Cuiba people (or Wamonae, as they are called in their own language) live in the Mochuelo community, located in the Resguardo Caño Mochuelo, in the Colombian Orinoquia, far east of the Casanare department.

The Cuiba's come from the Mausuney Muthe river, in the Meta department, and their language belongs to the guahibo language family (Universidad Nacional, 2007). Throughout their history, they have moved across different Colombian departments, such as Meta, Vichada and Casanare, which makes it impossible to accurately determine their place of origin.

The Cuiba people have traditionally been hunter-gatherers. Their diet was based on hunted native animals and wild fruits, which became part of their cosmogony. They have nevertheless been forced to settle in smaller territories, insufficient to regularly provide the quantities of food the community requires. 

For this reason, they have adapted to the new circumstances and learnt about agriculture and livestock. They also generate income from the trade of their products (crafts, meat, etc.) around the main towns of their area, such as Cravo Norte (Arauca) and other communities in the Reserve. They are still very much dependent on support from the National Government.

At Mochuelo, there still are traditional doctors, as well as a number of midwives, herbalists and witchdoctors. They all play important roles in Cuiba traditional medicine and are essential for the preservation and transmission of the aspects of their culture that regard caring for the environment. The community is aware of the need to support traditional doctors and their allies (midwifes and witchdoctors), as well as their places of work, for instance, accommodating the production of medicinal plants.

Women in the Mochuelo community play an essential role in teaching culture, cuisine, crafts and values to children and youths.

Native language

The Cuiba people in the Mochuelo community still use their own language, and for 60% of them, it is their only language. The other 40% is bilingual, speaking their language as well as Spanish. Caño Mochuelo Indigenous Reserve (2012) “Plan for safeguarding the Caño Mochuelo Reserve.”

Number of members

The Mochuelo community has a population of 1,100, including children, youths and adults.

Mochuelo Community 1100

What is our main goal?

The work of the “Sowing Our Knowledge” programme, (globally “Cultural Heritage for Inclusive Growth”, CH4IG) with the Cuiba people targets the promotion of craft production, communal work for knowledge transmission across generations, and local research, through activities like workshops and exercises.

  • Over 40 women and some men have contributed to the development of the following activities:
  • Development of a participative approach to foster the production of crafts made from raw materials extracted from Moriche and Macanilla palm trees, such as hammocks, backpacks, baskets, bracelets and headbands.
  • Approach based on communal and familiar work, to support the transmission of knowledge from older to younger generations.
  • Involvement of senior craftswomen, bearers of the ancestral knowledge about traditional fabrics that gets passed on from generation to generation.
  • Stimulate local research for the recovery and protection of ancestral knowledge of the Cuiba people.

The menarche (first menstrual period) is still an important event for the community to this day. This is the time for the mother to pass on to her daughter all her knowledge about housekeeping, the rules of society and childcare. These knowledge and rituals are falling into oblivion for many reasons - one of which is the scarcity of food offered to guests during rituals. Men are in charge of transmitting their knowledge to boys.

As regards the system of government, a few years ago the Cuiba people decided that the highest authority in their community should lie with the Communal Assembly and the Authorities Council, which consists of 7 coordinators representing each sector (such as education, indigenous guards or culture).