Kokama in Peru

Photo Source:  Emily Craft 
Map Source:  Amanecer Peru
People Name: Kokama
Country: Peru
10/40 Window: No
Population: 18,000
World Population: 29,400
Primary Language: Kukama-Kukamiria
Primary Religion: Ethnic Religions
Christian Adherents: 10.00 %
Evangelicals: 0.60 %
Scripture: Portions
Online Audio NT: No
Jesus Film: No
Audio Recordings: Yes
People Cluster: Guarani
Affinity Bloc: Latin-Caribbean Americans
Progress Level:

Introduction / History

A large majority of the 17,000 Kokama live in Peru. A small fraction of them live in the surrounding countries of Brazil and Columbia. The Kokama have a growing population despite past harships such as epidemics, colonial rule, and slave raiding.

Juan de Salinas was the first outsider to make contact with the Kokama in 1549 during a Spanish expedition. During this time the Kokama were a peaceful tribe. They kept to themselves and survived by fishing and horticulture. In the seventeenth century, however, their behaviors shifted. They became raiders and were feared by those who lived on the river. They became known as the "pirates of the river." A Jesuit priest was sent to make peace with the tribe and the visit went very well. The Kokama believed that a mestizo traveling with the priest was "a reincarnation of one of their chiefs."

As a result of a smallpox epidemic in the late 1600s, the population of the Kokama declined from 7,000 to 800. During this time, the Kokama scattered and moved away from the Spanish. They settled in places along the River Marañón. Here they have stayed and built a self-sustaining life for themselves. The Kokama are mostly secluded, with only a river taxi as means of travel up and down the river.

According to Rosa Vallejos, "the Kukama-Kukamiria is a deeply endangered language spoken in the Peruvian Amazon by approximately 1500 people. The remaining fluent speakers of the language are mostly older than 60 years, are spread out across various villages, and speak the language in very restricted situations." The rest of the people are speakers of an Amazonian Spanish dialect.

What Are Their Lives Like?

Most of the Kokama people live in wooden bungalows built on the edge of the river. These bungalows are raised by large stilts to give way to the rising and falling of river levels during the rainy season. The Kokama build their bungalows to be open air due to the hot and humid weather they endure year round. They usually sleep in platform beds or cloth hammocks, and use mosquito netting to keep from contracting malaria. Kokama men and women both work. They serve as fishermen and farmers. Crops include maize, sweet potatoes, taja-cara, beans, yams, sicana, pumpkins, peanuts, pineapples, cayenne peppers, peach palms, avocados, papayas, guavas, yucca, and bananas. They also grow cotton, tobacco, and barbasco for poisoning fish. Most of the farming is done on the opposite bank of the river. The Kokama plant crops in the river beds during the dry season when the water levels are low. They travel back and forth across the river daily on canoes carved out of tree trunks. They also use these boats for fishing. The yucca they get from the farms and the fish they catch are their main sources of food. They salt and dry the fish for preservation since no refrigeration is available. Occasionally they may be successful in killing a wild animal, such as a pig, tapir, or iguana.

Kokama women typically have 6 to 10 children each. Most of the children go to school, where they learn to read and write. However, they do not usually complete higher levels of education.

What Are Their Beliefs?

The Kokama have a mixture of beliefs due to their engagement with the outside world in recent years. While some Christian beliefs are taking hold, many still keep traditional Kokama beliefs alive. This animistic religion includes figures such as the whistling jungle spirit, the giant anaconda, the gringo face-peelers, and the river mermaid. The people still use and believe in the healing powers of a shaman. It is a challenge to teaching biblical truth to the Kokama because each of these traditional beliefs must be addressed.

What Are Their Needs?

The Kokama people are slowly becoming believers in Christ, but they need discipleship and training. There are a few pastors in the village of 9 De Octubre, and the surrounding villages, but they need more, and better, training. Kokama children also have a strong need to be accepted into the church and taught the Gospel along with the adults.

The Kokama get their water from the river. This dirty water causes illness and infections. They are in need of a clean water supply.

Prayer Points

Pray the Kokama people see Jesus's love through the believers in their midst.
Pray that all the Kokamas' needs are met.
Pray that God places a calling on future missionaries' hearts for this people group.
Pray that the Kokama turn away from their superstitions and trust fully in Christ.
Pray for more permanent mentors to disciple the new believers among the Kokama.

Text Source:   Emily Craft