For the Arhuaco, the mochila is a very important part of their culture and is used in their every day life. It is used by both men and women but only women are thought to make them. As part of the initiation, the Arhuaco girl has to bring her first stitches to the Mamo (a spiritual leader in the Arhuaco culture) and he blesses her to become a good mochila maker and to pass down the 'art of knitting' to future generations. When a man and a woman have decided to get together, she knits two mochilas, one for her and one for her partner, as symbol of love. Each stitch of the mochila symbolizes the thought and the everyday actions of a woman. She earns great pride and respect by presenting her finished mochilas as it represents a sign of maturity.
The myth of the Arhuacan mochila goes as follows:
“Before the things we see and touch were materialized, there was only the spiritual thought. Everything was darkness in the universe. The rules of life were not yet defined, the bad deeds did not yet exist, hence everything that was thought of was being fulfilled. When the world changed, all activities were distributed by the spirit of creation according to the lifestyle, climate and custom. When daylight came, the world began spinning in its orbit, all animals and plants announced the arrival of men and all activity began developing according to how the spirit of creation has ordered. When men were not yet given a companion by the spirit of creation, the spiders and worms of silk exercised this role by spinning and weaving to make the dresses. Then, when the spirit of creation provided a companion to men, his wife (A’mia) as well as the birds like the ‘oro pendo’ species, the macuao and others gave birth to the weaving of the mochila (tutu). All the knowledge of the threads and the weaving were given to Ati Nawowa (the first woman) by the spirit of creation so that she would pass this on to all IKU (Arhuaco) generations. When Ati Nawowa began connecting with other spirits she left part of her knowledge in different parts of the world, especially among the younger brothers. She wandered about whole of the universe in spirit fulfilling her assigned mission given by the spirit of creation. Ati Nawowa designed the shape and size of the mochla (tutu) as well as the dress (maku) of men and women…”
There are three kinds of mochilas; the mochila made of fibres of fique (maguey), the mochila made of cotton and the mochilas made of wool. The mochilas of fique are normally used by the indigenous group, Kogui, of the Sierra Nevada of Santa Marta. The Arhuaco also uses this material to make mochilas to carry all kinds of food. The different colors are obtained through the colors given by the leaves and roots. The woolen mochilas are the most popular mochilas and are the ones that are made to give as presents or to be sold. They use the natural color of the wool, wash it and start making threads out of it. It normally takes them one to two months to finish a mochila.
Traditionally there are several figures which are used for the woolen mochila. These figures were used, identifying the caste of which the carrier came from. That also applied for the colors used in the mochilas. Nowadays that tradition has almost disappeared, and each family is free to make whatever figure they like. There are approximately sixteen traditional figures but women are also using their creativity to knit modern figures in their designs.