The Kogi claim to be the descendants of the ancient Tairona Indians who, in prehistoric and early historic times, inhabited parts of the northern and western flanks of the Sierra Nevada and who had created a society that, at the time of the Spanish Conquest, was more advanced than most of the chiefdoms of interior Colombia. Some archaeological and mythological evidence seems to support this claim. In the early sixteenth century the narrow coastal strip lying to the north and northwest of the Sierra Nevada was inhabited by warlike tribes that offered fierce resistance to the Spanish invaders. Even after the founding of the town of Santa Marta in 1526 and the establishment of an uneasy peace, local rebellions occurred frequent. Only during the violent Spanish campaign of 1599-1600 were the Indians finally subdued. Their fields and villages were burned and sacked, chieftains and priests were executed, and those who survived, now decimated by force of arms and spreading diseases, fled into the mountains. During the seventeenth century these scattered remnants of different ethnicities reorganized in the more inaccessible valleys and began to form three or four groups, each with its own, but related, language. During the same century, the name "Tairona" was introduced by Spanish chroniclers as that of the ancient Indians of the Santa Marta region, the archaeological remains of whom are known to this day under this designation. It is to these semimythical and archaeological Tairona that the Kogi refer in their traditions.
Although the Kogi had been exposed to sporadic missionary influences since early Conquest times, the first permanent mission stations were founded only during the eighteenth century. Many Kogi became nominal Catholics but otherwise continued to resist changes in their religious and cosmological beliefs. During the last centuries, however, the Kogi have adopted many old-world food plants together with iron tools, some cattle, domestic fowl, and trousers for men, a selection carefully controlled by the native priesthood. In Colombia, Kogi culture is related to that of the ancient Muica of the Bogotá highlands and to that of the present-day Tunebo Indians. The possibility of ancient Mesoamerican influences in Kogi culture cannot be dismissed.