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Cocopah Indian Fact Sheet

Native American Facts For Kids was written for young people learning about the Cocopah Indian tribe for school or home-schooling reports. We encourage students and teachers to visit our main Cocopah Indian homepage for in-depth information about the tribe, but here are our answers to the questions we are most often asked by children, with Cocopah pictures and links we believe are suitable for all ages.

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   Cocopah Tribe

How do you pronounce the word "Cocopah"? What does it mean? Is the correct spelling "Cocopa" or "Cocopah"?
Cocopah is pronounced ko-ko-pah. It comes from their own tribal name for themselves, Kokwapa. No one knows the meaning of this name any longer. It may have been a village name or band name. Both the spellings Cocopa and Cocopah are commonly used, although the Arizona tribe officially uses the spelling Cocopah. In Mexico, their name is usually spelled "Cucapa."

Where do the Cocopas live?
The Cocopah Indians are natives of southwestern Arizona and northern Mexico.

How is the Cocopah Indian nation organized?
Cocopah Indians in the United States live on a reservation in Arizona. Indian reservations are lands that belong to the tribes and are under their control. Each reservation has its own government, laws, police, and services, just like a small country. However, the Cocopas are also US citizens and must obey American law. In Mexico, most Cucapas live in small villages in northern Baja California and have no political organization of their own. Originally Cocopa government was very loose, with each village led by clan leaders and medicine people rather than a ruling chief. Today, the Cocopah tribe is led by a tribal council elected by all the citizens of the tribe.

What language do the Cocopa Indians speak?
Almost all Cocopa people speak English today, but some of them, especially older people, also speak their native Cocopa language. Cocopa is a complex language with many long words. If you'd like to know a Cocopa word that's not too hard to say, "awka" (sounds a little like ow-kah) is a friendly greeting in Cocopa.

What was Cocopa culture like in the past? What is it like now?
Here is the homepage of the Cocopah Indian Tribe. On their site you can find information about the Cocopah people in the past and today.

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How do Cocopa Indian children live, and what did they do in the past?
They do the same things all children do--play with each other, go to school and help around the house. Many Cocopa children like to go hunting and fishing with their fathers. In the past, Indian kids had more chores and less time to play in their daily lives, just like colonial children. But they did have dolls, toys, and games to play. Cocopa people were known as excellent swimmers and runners, and Cocopa kids liked to swim in the rivers and compete at footraces. A Cocopa mother traditionally carried a young child in a cradleboard on her back. Here is a website with pictures of cradleboards and other Indian baby carriers.

What were men and women's roles in the Cocopa tribe?
Cocopa husbands and wives worked together to farm their fields. Cocopa men were responsible for hunting, fishing, and warfare, while Cocopa women did most of the cooking, herb gathering, and child care. Both genders took part in storytelling, music and artwork, and traditional medicine.

What were Cocopah homes like in the past?
Cocopah Indians lived in earth houses, which are made of a square wooden frame packed with clay and thatched with grass. The thick earth walls kept this kind of house cool in the heat and warm in the cold, making it good shelter in the desert.

Cocopah people do not live in these old-fashioned dwellings today, any more than other Americans live in log cabins. Cocopah families live in modern houses and apartment buildings, just like you.

What were Cocopa clothes like? Did the Cocopas wear feather headdresses and face paint?
Originally, Cocopa people didn't wear much clothing-- men wore only loincloths and women wore knee-length skirts made of willow bark and grass. Here is a picture of a Mexican Cocopa woman wearing a willow-bark skirt. Shirts were not necessary in Cocopa culture, but the Cocopas sometimes wore rabbit-skin robes or ponchos at night when the weather became cooler, and women wore beadwork collars like the Mojaves. Unlike most Native American tribes, the Cocopas never wore moccasins. They either went barefoot or wore sandals. Here are some photos and links about Native American apparel in general.

Cocopa Indians did not wear feather head dresses like the Plains Indians. Cocopa men twisted their hair into hair rolls, which looked a little like dreadlocks. Sometimes they would wind these hair rolls up around their heads or attach eagle feathers to them. Cocopa women wore their hair long and straight. The Cocopas wore facial tattoos and also painted their faces and bodies for special occasions. They used different colors and patterns for war paint, religious ceremonies, and festive decoration. Many Cocopa people also painted horizontal white or yellow stripes on their hair.

Today, Cocopa people wear modern clothes like jeans instead of loincloths... and they only wear traditional regalia for special occasions like a dance.

What was Cocopa transportation like in the days before cars? Did they paddle canoes?
No--the Cocopa Indians weren't coastal people, and rarely traveled by river. Occasionally they used rafts, but more often, they just walked. There were no horses in North America until colonists brought them over from Europe. Once Europeans brought horses to America, the Cocopas could travel more quickly than before.

What was Cocopah food like in the days before supermarkets?
The Cocopahs planted crops of corn, beans, and pumpkins. Cocopah men also hunted rabbits and deer and fished in the rivers, while women gathered nuts, fruits, and herbs. Favorite Cocopah recipes included baked beans, hominy, and soup. Here is a website with more information about traditional Native American recipes.

What were Cocopah weapons and tools like in the past?
Cocopa hunters used bows and arrows, and fishermen used nets and spears. In war, Cocopa men fired their bows or fought with war clubs or spears. Some Cocopa warriors used leather shields to protect themselves from enemy archers. Here is a website of Indian weapon pictures.

What other Native Americans did the Cocopa tribe interact with?
The Cocopas traded regularly with neighboring tribes, particularly the Papago and Maricopa tribes, who were usually their allies. The Cocopas also fought wars with some of their neighbors. The Yuma and Mojave tribes were frequent enemies.

What are Cocopa arts and crafts like?
Cocopa artists made pots, Indian baskets. and beaded jewelry. Cocopa women were especially known for making intricate beaded collars to wear around their necks. Here is a picture of a Cocopa beaded collar.

What kinds of stories do the Cocopas tell?
There are lots of traditional Cocopa legends and fairy tales. Storytelling is very important to the Cocopa Indian culture. Here is a Cocopa story about the creation of the world. Here's a website where you can read more about Cocopa stories.

What about Cocopa religion?
Spirituality and religion were important parts of Cocopa life, and some people continue to practice traditional beliefs today. It is respectful to avoid imitating religious rituals for school projects since some Cocopa people care about them deeply. You can read and learn about them, however. You can visit this site to learn more about Cocopah Indian religion or this site about Native American traditions in general.

Can you recommend a good book for me to read?
You may enjoy And It Is Still That Way, a book of legends from various Arizona Indian tribes including the Cocopah tribe. If you want to know more about Cocopa culture and history, two good choices are Cocopa Native Americans and The Cocopa of California and Arizona. You can also browse through our reading list of books by Indian authors. Disclaimer: we are an Amazon affiliate and our website earns a commission if you buy a book through one of these links. Most of them can also be found in a public library, though!

How do I cite your website in my bibliography?
You will need to ask your teacher for the format he or she wants you to use. The authors' names are Laura Redish and Orrin Lewis and the title of our site is Native Languages of the Americas. We are a nonprofit educational organization working to preserve and protect Native American languages and culture. You can learn more about our organization here. Our website was first created in 1998 and last updated in 2020.

Thanks for your interest in the Cocopa Indian people and their language!

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Learn More About The Cocopas

Cocopa Indian Tribe
An overview of the Cocopa people, their language and history.

Cocopa Language Resources
Cocopa language samples, articles, and indexed links.

Cocopa Culture and History Directory
Related links about the Cocopa tribe past and present.

Cocopah Indian Words
Cocopa Indian vocabulary lists.

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