The Carriel: An Emblem of Colombian Tradition and Craftsmanship


Picture a traditional carrying bag, meticulously crafted from 115 to 124 pieces of premium leather, with no less than twelve pockets – including four secret ones and another dubbed ‘super-secret’. This is the Carriel, an essential accessory for the arrieros (muleteers) of Antioquia between the 19th and 20th centuries.

The carriel, also known as Guarniel, was the home to the owner’s most precious objects. It served as a trusted keeper of religious items, business tools, personal belongings, and entertainment items. This amazing representation of the arriero’s lifestyle and their contribution to the development of the region has thus been declared Colombia’s Cultural Heritage.

The name “carriel” has an interesting origin and is closely linked to the cultural history of Colombia. Although its exact roots are a subject of debate, the most accepted explanation is that the term “carriel” comes from the English word “carry-all”, which means ‘to carry everything’. This theory makes sense when we consider that Colombian muleteers used these bags to carry all their important belongings during their journeys. As a result, the term “carry-all” would have been Hispanicized to become “carriel”, maintaining its original meaning and reflecting the practical function of this emblematic Colombian accessory.

The muleteers used to carry a variety of items in the carriel, reflecting their lifestyle and the essence of their work. Among these were business tools such as a notebook and pencil, personal items such as knife, mirror, haircomb, religious articles such as the rosary and images of saints. They also carried entertainment objects such as the deck of cards and tobacco for smoking. The existence of secret and ‘super-secret’ pockets in the Carriel underscores the importance of these objects to the muleteers, who needed to keep their most valuable belongings safe during their long journeys, like money and beloved one’s pictures.

In the town of Jericó, in Antioquia, Colombia, the Carriel is lovingly brought to life by local craftswomen. These artisans ensure that the Carriel is composed of 90 to 100% leather, reflecting the need for premium quality in the crafting of this iconic artifact. The colors embedded into the leather – yellow, red, and green – portray the vibrant spirit of Jericó and Antioquia.

The art of crafting Carriels has been handed down through generations, a testament to the commitment of Jericó artisans to preserving and celebrating their intangible heritage. Declared the Cultural Heritage of the Nation in 2021, the Carriel stands as a powerful symbol of Antioquia’s strength and culture. Yet, the traditional craft faces the challenge of dwindling interest amongst the younger generation.

Despite the difficulties, the Carriel endures as a valuable icon, a testament to the skill, attention to detail, and dedication inherent in its creation. This unique piece of cultural heritage is a painstaking craft, a witness to the region’s rich history, and the tangible legacy of the artisans who bring leather to life.