The Ticuna are the most numerous people in Brazilian Amazonia with a population of approximately 38,000 people. 8,000 people in Colombia and 7,000 people in Peru complete their territory. The Ticuna were one of the first major tribes to be contacted by early conquistadors over 400 years ago. They have managed to preserve their personal identity through their native language (Tikuna), traditional rituals and cultural art forms. However, it was only in the 1990’s that the Ticuna gained official recognition for their land after a recent history of violent contact with the invasion of rubber-trappers, fishermen and loggers in the Solimoes river region. 



Village Life

There are over 70 established Ticuna aldeias (villages) in the Alto Solimones over a 600 mile stretch of the Amazon. Within these villages, they live in malocas; large hut-like dwellings that offer a mythological significance among the indians. Traditionally each village and maloca had a war leader or chief who defended their settlements from enemies. Nowadays, the chiefs primary roles is to represent the group and communicate with with other villages and outsiders (non indians). 

Today, they face the challenge of guaranteeing their economic and environmental sustainability, enhancing their relations with the surrounding society while maintaining the vivacity of their extremely rich culture. Not by chance, the masks, designs and paintings of this people have achieved international recognition. The Tikuna are an extraordinary artistic people and are one of a few Amazonian tribes that paint for the sake of painting, as opposed to using paint as decoration on utilitarian objects. Much of their artistic output consists of wood and stone sculptures, basketry, ceramics and mask making. They are also adept at making bark cloth, a natural, paper like finer fabric that is often used as a canvas.

In particular, the Ticuna are known for the traditional masks and costumes they use in ceremonies. Manufacture of the masks and other ceremonial objets such as adornments and musical instruments is a male activity. Bark cloth is decorated and painted for the mask body and the upper part or “head” highlights the features of the supernatural entity. One artistic aspect that deserves attention is the collection of pigments and dyes. Around 15 species of dye plants are used to paint the bark, weaving thread, gourds, baskets, paddles and the body itself. There are also a number of mineral based pigments used to decorate ceramics and the “heads” of some ceremonial masks.

Domestic craftwork is generally the resposibilty of the wife of a Ticuna family. Almost all women know how to make the tipiti (a woven tube using to squeeze manioc pulp), baskets, fishing nets, jewellery, hammocks and other craftwork. Most of these items are made for domestic use and are nor for sale. However, on certain occasions, the artistic innovations have been enhanced thus improving the visual appearance of the artefacts making them better finished and more appealing.


Agriculture & Subsistance 

The Ticuna cultivate native species such as manioc, yam, sugarcane and a wide array of fruits. Formally when the diet was based on game meat, fishing had minimal importance and was practised by poisoning the fish with Timbo juice. This situation was turned upside down following their occupation of the Solimoes floodplains. Today fishing is one of the most important activities for the Ticuna. Hunting on the other hand is now practiced by few despite being traditionally closed linked to the tribe when they used blowguns with fire poison-tipped darts. Their agricultural technique “slash and burn” is the felling of forest followed by burning using the ashes as fertiliser. 

The Spirit World

Ancient wisdom remains and teaches that the world is controlled by spirits and forces that determine the course of events. Ta’e is the divinity who inhabits the world above and who gives Ticuna their souls. The most important mythical beings are the Yo’i and Ipi, two brothers who function as culture heroes and who confront several demons of the intermediate world and the world below. Nature was the first man, from whom the mythical brothers and their sisters were born. Me’tare was a powerful shaman who conducted the first female initiation ceremony.

Formerly there were more shamans than there are today. Magical power is derived from the shaman’s relationship with the spirits of certain trees. Curing is done by means of sucking and tobacco smoking. Some shamans also cause harm by emitting invisible thorns. Medicinal plants are still used and purification rituals are performed.

The most important ceremony is ‘la palazon’ (Spanish for hair cropping) or ‘mocha nova’ (Portuguese for new girl). During her first menstruation, a young woman is isolated so that men will not see her. A festival is organised, at which their is dancing to continuous drum playing. Indians from various local groups come together for three days. Some of the guests disguise themselves with masks that personify different beings. Then, the girl is brought out of seclusion, she is adorned, and her hair is cut. Following this ritual the initiate begins her adult life.


Information Referenced from the Instituto Socioambiental | Povos Indígenas no Brasil and Indian Cultures

Date accessed 01.04.15

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