Bean of the Month: Peru Ukuku | June 2022

Pippa McCreery @ 2023-02-22 12:02:44 +1000


Ukuku in Peruvian Folklore

Storytelling is a profoundly human habit. Go anywhere in the world - from mountain peaks to deep valleys, from coastal villages to inland deserts - and you will find people together sharing tales both tall and true of heroes and villains, triumphs and tragedies. What is, what was, and what could be. 

The divide between the gods or spirits of a land and the people who live in it can be a source of great conflict, and so we see over and over again, characters who serve to bridge this gap.

Demigods and half-humans, from Achilles and Perseus of Ancient Greece to Imhotep of Egypt, Maui sailing the Pacific, and Cu Chulainn, the great hero of Ireland. Centaurs, mermaids, sphinx, selkies and satyrs appear as mystical hybrids who move between worlds and transcend ordinary boundaries. 

In the Quechua language of Peru, passed down from the time of the Incas, the stories tell of the Ukuku, children of the bear.

The History of Ukuku - Half-human, Half Bear

Andean bears, known locally as ‘ukumari’, are shy creatures with markings on their face which resemble spectacles. Around six feet in length, they are excellent climbers and nimble navigators of the Andean peaks and the forests of the Amazonian basin.

Andean Bear in Peru

If the stories are true, they are also great seducers of local shepherdesses. A reference to this can be found in the chronicles of the Spanish priest Fray Reginaldo de Lizarraga who wrote in 1605, “there are bred very large bears that pursue the women and, when the women see the bears, they make no resistance.” 

As with all folktales, the details of the plot vary, but the core story is the same. A local girl minding a flock of alpacas hears one of her animals in distress and in searching it out she comes across a very hairy man who offers to help.

They trek through dense jungle, winding mountain paths and dark caves, before her companion is revealed to be not a man at all, but a bear. The bear declares his love for the woman and consequently they live together and have children, hairy-legged like their father, and human from the waist up. 

Ukuku half-bear half-human

These children - known as Ukuku - are fun-loving and good-natured, imbued with guile and charm, able to speak the languages of both humans and animals. Ukuku grow up learning everything both their parents are able to teach them, of the human world and the wild. This unique knowledge and intelligence allows the Ukuku to lead their mothers out of the winding maze of mountain and jungle, and return the lost shepherdesses to their home and families. 

Once back with their mothers’ people, the Ukuku serve the community with their bear-like strength. They climb glaciers to retrieve blocks of ice from the peaks, which when melted have the ability to heal.

Their position between the natural and human world allows them to mediate between the supernatural and mundane, appealing to the gods for abundance, peace, and harmony for the people and the land. Their ability to communicate allows them to negotiate with pumas and priests alike, and maintain balance for the benefit of all. 

Ukuku Characteristics in Peruvian Coffee Farmers

The coff­ee growers from this region have adopted the name of these guardians as they are also known for the characteristics of Ukuku, they are strong and wise, and they are persistent and hard workers.

They have been growing coff­ee for decades in the centre of a natural reserve, navigating the balance of agriculture and the wild forest that surrounds it.

This is delicate work, possible only through the knowledge passed down through generations. By the people who have lived and worked this land and kept its spirit alive through stories of hope and harvest, loss and return, of the children of the bear and their wisdom and strength.

Our Ukuku Bean of the Month is soft and mellow, an approachable coffee which is easy to enjoy. When brewed as a black coffee, it’s clean and sweet, with the addition of milk the richness of spiced chocolate comes to the fore. Served as a filter, the delicacy of peachy florals really shine and the crisp acidity balances the body.

While we cannot guarantee that drinking the Peru Ukuku will bestow you with any extra insight or bear-like strength, we can tell you that you will have a lovely time testing it out.