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Sombrero vueltiao /Flickr User andresfox/
Caña flecha is one Colombia’s main natural products Colombia for the manufacture of handicrafts and accessories.
The most famous product is, undoubtedly, the sombrero vueltiao, the hat that has become a symbol of Colombia.
As highlighted by writer José Luis Garcés, ‘vueltiao’ is a grammatical anomaly, but to call the hat ‘sombrero volteado' would be offensive.
The caña flecha (a kind of arrowroot) for making handicrafts is obtained from green leaves of a palm that grows in the departments of Córdoba and Sucre, on Colombia’s Caribbean Coast.
The term ‘vueltiao’ was the name given to the hat by the Zenú Indians, who originally inhabited the region, and by their descendants, who inherited the tradition of picking the vein of the green palm leaf for weaving the nowadays emblematic hats. Consequently, the hat known by its true name of 'sombrero vueltiao' is part of our cultural authenticity.
The use of caña flecha, a plant that also protects the edges of marshes, originated as a method for Indians and peasants to protect themselves from the sun and high temperatures. The locals then processed the green leaves of the plant to extract the fibers with which they undertook the task of weaving.
In the Zenú indigenous culture, women courted men by offering a vueltiao hat as a gift.
In the Zenú indigenous culture, women courted men by giving them their first vueltiao hat as a gift. Somewhat later, the best-known caña flecha accessory, originally used by people from the province, came to adorn the heads of notables such as:
“From this mysterious plant, say the Tuchineros, nothing can be more beautiful and lovely than the outfit and the hat. That is why I prefer to don a sombrero vueltiao; the woman, a bracelet and a handbag at her side.” /Rough translation of a fragment of an ancestral stanza of ten octosyllabic lines from the department of Córdoba/.
Beginning several years ago, the artisans of Tuchín and other nearby villages in Córdoba and Sucre, Sampués and San Andrés de Sotavento, for example, began to realize the many uses they could give to caña flecha. Aside from hats, bracelets, bags, and wallets are now woven in the region.
From its origins as a rural product, caña flecha found its way to important national and international fashion walkways.
These creations are due, in great measure, to counseling received by artisans, including that of important Colombian designers like Beatriz Camacho, who aside from adding caña flecha accessories to her creations, has motivated the people to explore new ways of using it and generate more income for their families.
From its origins as a rural product, caña flecha found its way to important fashion walkways like Medellín's Colombiamoda and Bogotá Fashion, in the country’s capital. Even designer Olga Piedrahita has exhibited her designs in Milan’s famed fashion walkway. Thus, the world has witnessed the ingenious work of Colombian artisans and designers in giving varied shapes and uses to the plant.
Sombrero vueltiao /Flickr User lastquest/
These days, caña flecha accessories are easily found in handicraft and clothing shops in the country’s main cities.
The walkways of famous fashion shows have served to catapult well-known Colombian products like coffee and emeralds, while being a start-off for massifying the caña flecha accessories that are now easily available in handicraft and clothing shops in most large Colombian cities.
Tourists from around the world are already asking about Tuchín in the savanna region where peasants and artisans spend their days planting and working caña flecha. Visitors from Spain, Venezuela, Cuba, and the United States have been seen there buying the accessories. Thanks to the international prestige obtained by caña flecha and the vueltiao hat, a major part of the inhabitants of this region are devoted to the noble task of weaving and sewing. Just like the closely stitched turns of the hat, this activity brings families together around the plant and its multiple possibilities.
The present caña flecha boom was preceded by the vueltiao hat. Colombian characters such as the legendary kings of vallenatos, Alejandro Durán and Luis Enrique Martínez have worn it. So have world boxing champion Miguel ‘Happy’ Lora and the sports delegations that attended the Olympic Games in Athens in 2004.
It is an honor to wear a caña flecha accessory; what once were artisan products restricted to a small sphere, are now widely demanded items. Regardless of whether caña flecha is made into hats, bracelets, wallets, bags, or other items derived from the ideas of hand laborers and designers, the caña flecha of the savannas of Cordoba is a small piece of Colombia strolling along local and international streets.