The Arrieros (antique mule drivers) are the true Paisa heroes, conquerors of mountains, very admired and loved in our region. They were the architects of a unique identity of its own kind, whose features are preserved in current Antioquian people.
Adapting to change is the only way to move forward as a society, but there are some things in our culture that we should never fail to transmit to new generations, because there are very valuable things that we should preserve.
With this in mind, the most emblematic and beloved figure in Antioquia, in which I can think of, is the Arriero. I can proudly say that, so far, they are the representation par excellence of the Antioquian idiosyncrasy. Its importance is such that it has become the most recognized image of our country around the world: Juan Valdéz, the most famous Arriero in the world.
“Arrieros” were called those men who played the role of Mule driving. This was basically transporting any kind of merchandise, goods, animals and food from one place to another, supplying the needs of village markets. Their personality was generally rude, elementary, recursive and extremely resourceful. Men who saw this kind of job as a way of improving their economic position, because these Arrieros were usually bountiful people that enjoyed good reputation.
It seems that the fast development of technology, consumerism and often incorrect parental patterns, derived from the excessive desire to please our children, has created new generations with the habit of wanting to do everything with minimal effort. This is reflected both in their school, work, and personal appearance. This legendary Arriero has some of the characteristics that we should inculcate in our children:
Hard work ethic: the Arrieros had to go through steep and dangerous roads, enduring days of rain and Sun through really inaccessible mountains, (Antioquia was one of the most isolated of Colombia regions at that time). Their superhuman efforts not only managed to improve the quality of life for themselves and their families, but it helped to a large extent to connect the region with the rest of the country.
Persistence: To be solvent at the Mule-driving activity, it was necessary to start from an early age, beginning in the lowest rank, then become a foreman or even the owner of their own beasts of burden. It was essential to develop a strong and persistent personality to endure the hardships of the profession, and achieve long-term reward consequent to the sacrifice of so many years.
Initiative: The Arriero was an independent merchant, so nobody was to tell him what he had to do or how. He had his own ability for businesses and their discernment. He didn’t stay still waiting for opportunities to knock on his door, instead he knew how to look out for them, and even sometimes he created them.
Enterprise: The Arriero loved freedom and therefore his aim was not to be tied to a salary, nor work under the command of someone else. This led him to find his own way to ensure the sustenance of this own, with inventiveness and efficiency. Stories of the most legendary Paisa Arrieros, as the renowned Pepe Sierra, who, being a peasant without education, became the richest man in the country between the 19th century and early 20th century, provide inspiration and example.
Los arrieros guaranteed freight transport for more than 300 years, connected cities through trade, they opened roads with the blow of machetes, where mobility was almost impossible, holding the country economically. But their legacy is much more valuable for their cultural contribution rather than economic: they wove threads of tradition that built our culture with their customs, lifestyles, form of expression and created an identity for us. Their strong personality, forged in the mountains of Antioquia is still present in current Antioquian people, and it deserves to stay on time as pride symbol of the Paisa race.