KUKAMA (Cocama) Culture
The Kukama are an original culture of the Amazon Rainforest. They thrived in the rainforest for hundreds of years before the Spanish explorers arrived. The Kukama first made contact with explorers in 1549 during a Spanish expedition led by Juan de Salinas down the Ucayali river. Western diseases ravaged the population in the following decades. The population of Kukama fell to as few as 800 individuals by 1700. Slowly the population began to recover. However, they would still be forced to endure colonial rule, epidemics, and forced servitude until the early 20th century. Today, 15,000-18,000 Kukama ancestors remain, with most living in the upper Amazon region of Peru. Out of these, only 2000 are believed to speak the native Kukama language, with most of these people now well into their 70’s. There is a fear that if nothing is done to teach the younger generations Kukama traditions, culture, and language could be lost forever.
Avita Taricuarima (Celeste) has been working with Amazonia Expeditions since 2012, first as a trainee guide then in 2014 as a full-time head guide. Celeste is from a small village called Santo Thomas. Santo Thomas is home to 600 Kukama people. Here, most live modest lives as subsistence farmers or commercial fisherman. However, in this small village, change has been coming. Recently, cultural rescue programs have been initiated by the village of Santo Thomas and organizations like the Yrapakatun Association. These programs take place throughout the year to celebrate Kukama heritage featuring games, songs, and traditional foods. These initiatives have been educating communities to be proud of their own cultural identity and heritage. This is an education which has been neglected and denied to them for decades. Community leaders have been working on ways to expand these programs to other communities and individuals. They are fighting to create a new generation of Kukama people who are proud of their identity and proud to say that they are Kukama!
Celeste is part of this new generation of Kukama who are fighting to keep their language, traditions, and culture alive. She is PROUD to be Kukama. The Kukama have endured epidemics, slavery, and racism for hundreds of years. With cultural leaders like Celeste there is no doubt that the Kukama will survive the modern world and the unique challenges that it brings.