The cucapá, centenary survivors from the north of the country


One of the original peoples of America, the cucapá, survive in small numbers in Baja California and Sonora. But who are they?

According to the Cultural Information System of the Government of Mexico, Cucapa, Cucapá, Cocopa, Cucapah and Cocopah are all accepted names to designate this indigenous group or American people, as well as their language, which they call koipai and whose meaning is ” those who go and return.

According to pre-Hispanic archaeological remains, they were the first settlers of the current Valley of Mexicali; They were nomads and their presence in the Colorado River delta dates back more than 500 years.

At present, the cucapá live in towns of Mexicali and Ensenada, in Baja California; they also live in the municipality of San Luis Río Colorado, Sonora; while their cocopah relatives live in Somerton, Arizona, United States.

However, according to the National Institute of Statistics and Geography (INEGI), in 2020 there were 172 cucapás in Baja California and Sonora; and of those people, only 77 were speakers of cucapá, which is why it is considered an endangered language.

Brief history of the cucapá

The first record made by Europeans of this ethnic group was in 1541, when they traveled the Colorado River and observed them among various tribes. It is known that for centuries they were dedicated to hunting, gathering, agriculture and fishing.

Likewise, in the 18th century its evangelization was attempted without success and from the 19th century, different events beyond its control began to change its lifestyle and dramatically reduce its population.

Among these events we can mention the establishment of border limits between Mexico and the United States; the construction of the Edgard Hoover dam on the Colorado River, for which they had to abandon agriculture; and the agrarian reform of the 20th century, which resulted in the loss of much of their territory.

Finally, the fact that the federal government declared the creation of the Upper Gulf of California and Colorado Delta Biosphere Reserve at the end of the last century, resulted in the reduction of its fishing resources.

Cosmogony of a people that refuses to disappear

The creation myth of the cucapá is based on two brothers named Sipa and Komat, who were responsible for giving order to the cosmos.

In the same way, the ceremonies of the cucapá are celebrated around the life cycle of the people and one of the most important occurs when someone dies, since for days the deceased is watched over with dances and emotional songs.

It seems that when they were nomads, custom dictated that the house of the deceased be burned with all their belongings, but nowadays the house is abandoned or, if possible, dismantled to build a new one.

Party, music and dance of the cucapá

They are a people with a great musical tradition, famous for interpreting the sounds of desert animals in the so-called kuri kuri songs; passages of creation and the cycles of the moon. Likewise, while a cucapá interprets the song, others dance in complex movements.

Finally, since 2003, the Cucapá Nations Meeting has been held every year, bringing together the inhabitants of Baja California with their relatives from Somerton, Arizona. There traditional dances and songs are presented and traditional crafts made with beads are sold.

In this event, the exhibitors also sell dishes of their typical food, among which different prepared fish stand out: in cecina, on the disk, and air-dried; and cachora (a lizard) in barbecue. As for drinks, there are different atoles such as acorn-fed, quelite seed, wheat and mesquite pod.

Although they are a small community in our country, the cucapá are as Mexican as you and me. Let’s honor the original peoples of our country.

Source: Mexico Desconocido