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June 13, 2011

Growing up in the Amazon—Cocama young people will share their world in the Family Activity Center


Can you imagine growing up in a small village? Can you imagine growing up next to a large river, or living in a rainforest? Now, can you imagine growing up in a small village next to a large river that rises so high it overflows the riverbank and floods your small village for several months each year?

Well, let Cocama young people show you a little bit of what it is like. The Cocamas, an indigenous people who have lived in the Amazon Basin in Peru for hundreds of years, have adapted well to life in exactly this type of place—the flooded rainforest. The river and the forest give the Cocama people everything they need.  

For example, the people cut trees from the forest to make the canoes they use to travel from place to place. You ask, “What about their cars?” Well, they have no cars, because there are no roads on which to drive them: The rivers are their only roads.

The river provides more than just a means for their transportation for the Cocama people.

Fish49 Where do you think the people bathe?

In the river!

Where do you think they play? 

In the river! 

Where do they get most of their food? 

From the river!

There are no supermarkets in the village. The forest is their grocery store. The main sources of food are fish, hunted animals from the forest, and platanos (bananas) that are grown in their chacras (gardens). The men and older boys go fishing daily throughout the year to provide food for their family. Fish makes up 80  percent of the Cocama diet. 

Can you imagine eating fish for breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day?

The lives of the Cocamas change throughout the year because their two seasons, summer and winter, are very different. Both seasons are hot, but each winter the river swells 30 to 45 feet and overflows the riverbanks, flooding the village. 

As you already know, fishing is a daily activity.  Let’s see how you would answer this question: 

Do you think it is easier to catch fish in the wintertime, when the river is high and the village is flooded, or in the summertime, when the river is low? Why? 

If you answered that it’s easier to catch fish when the river is low, you are correct! It's more difficult to catch fish when the river is high because the fish are more dispersed, or spread out. When the river is low, the fish are easier to catch because they are concentrated in a smaller area. 


The Cocamas build their houses on stilts.  Do you know why?

Well, you already know that the village floods each year. As you can imagine, this flooding could cause many problems. The Cocamas build their houses on poles, or stilts, to protect themselves, their houses, and their possessions. The Cocamas make their roofs from palm leaves found in the forest, which they intricately weave into thatch for the roofs.

When the ImagiNATIONS Activity Center opens, visitors to the museum in Washington, DC, will have a chance to experience what it is like to live in a remote indigenous village in the Peruvian Amazon. People will be able to walk through and explore a model stilt house like the houses found in the village of San Martin de Tipischa. Families can swing on hammocks in the living room and try their hand at cooking traditional foods in a traditional kitchen. 

55boysskateboarding Throughout the Stilt House, photos from the project Niños de la Amazonia (Children of the Amazon)  will be on display, so visitors will get a glimpse into life in San Martin de Tipischa through the lenses of the children who live there. These amazing photos, all taken by indigenous young people from the village, provide an intimate perspective into the Cocamas' everyday realities. And it’s not only visitors who will experience a different culture: Some of the young photographers from Niños de la Amazonia will be coming from their village in the rainforest to the opening of the Activity Center.

We hope to see you there!

—Sarah Block, researcher,
Smithsonian Office of Policy and Analysis, working with the imagiNATIONS team 

All photos were taken by young people in the village of San Martin de Tipischa, Peru, as part of the Niños de la Amazonia project. © Amy Coplan 2009. Used with permission.

From top to bottom: Edil (age 14), the vIllage in winter

Edil, fishing

Jesmarly (13), my grandfather preparing a holiday dinner

Roy (14), boys skateboarding


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I can imagine all the things you said on this blog. Believe it or not but there is an island in my country which has the same river-stuffs you have mentioned. From the skateboarding game, the stilt house, the fishing activity, those are all the same in my country. I live in Indonesia and the island I told you is called Borneo.

I know about that. I was grow up in the island. I live near the sea, play in the sea. Sleep in the sand. It was beatifull place.

You right Ashanty, that boys reminds me of the Dayak children in Borneo

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