One of the highlights of any Jungle Experiences cruise in the Peruvian Amazon is a chance to visit the indigenous people who live in and around Pacaya-Samiria National Preserve.
They are most likely members of the Kukama tribe, which has called the region home for many generations. Their villages are perched along the banks of the Marañón and Ucayali rivers on either side of the park. But many of the park rangers and naturalist guides are also Kukama.
Two of the best places to meet and mingle with the Kukama are Puerto Prado and San Regis villages along the Rio Marañón opposite the national park.
Puerto Prado welcomes visitors into its thatched-roof elementary school for a presentation by local students. While the main attraction at San Regis is a spiritual ceremony and medical plant demonstration (including ayahuasca) conducted by Carola, the town’s longtime shaman.
The Kukama have called the area home for at least 200 years. According to local legend, a great chief by the name of Manuel Pacaya Irarica — who was also called Pacaya Samiria — led his people to the region from elsewhere in the Amazon in the 1830s.
It was the latest in a long series of migrations by the Kukama in search of better food resources, or escaping indigenous warfare or enslavement by the Spanish or Portuguese.
In this case, they were apparently looking for a home that wasn’t flooded for half the year. Because Chief Pacaya decided to settle his people on bluffs above the Rio Marañón that later grew into the town of Nauta — where Jungle Experiences starts and ends many of its Peruvian Amazon cruises.
Together with a linguistically related group called the Kukamiria, the Kukama number around 20,000 people in northeastern Peru and neighboring parts of the Brazilian and Colombian Amazon.
According to Rosa Vallejos, an associate professor at the University of New Mexico who has studied the indigenous people of the Amazon for many years, the Kukama “preserve vast knowledge of the forest and the aquatic environment, which allows them to survive in this area of the jungle that is flooded with water almost half of the year.”
And they are more than happy to share some of that knowledge with visitors to their rainforest realm.Tags: Kukama tribe, Marañón and Ucayali rivers, Pacaya-Samiria National Preserve, peruvian amazon