Tucano (Tukano) Indians

Father of a group of various sub-nations that live in the upper Rio Negro area called Tucano (Tukano). This group’s culture is a virtual melting pot. It is common practice for the men to take wives from other groups. The mother will remain with her native language and children will learn as many as five languages living in a mixed community. The Tucano have been affected severely by their exposure to the national society. They are very involved in their self-determination, defense of their territory, and autonomy.

Ceramic design has developed into a precise visual language with which to communicate cultural ideas and values. They have two distinct categories of design. One is predominately abstract geometrical pattern, lines, dots, parallel lines, circles, circle spirals, triangles, and diamond shapes. There are also figurative motifs of frogs, birds, lizards, bats, fishes, and snakes, often repeated. At times they combine these designs together, producing a distinctive art which is both sophisticated and meaningful.

As a group, the Tucano Indians are known for their strength as they have been threatened time and time again by outsiders who wish to assimilate them into larger society. With only 5,500 Tucanos living in Brazil (and parts of Colombia), the tribe has done its best to remain vigilante about maintaining the self-determination and autonomy required when it comes to defending their own land and culture. Despite this heroic stance, the Tucanos are frequently subject to violent attacks and have been weakened at times by new strains of diseases, such as malaria, which have hurt them.

Transportation is also difficult for this tribe as rain regularly frequents the area and floods nearby rivers in both the summer and winter months. Still, waterways are the best mode of transportation as the rest of the terrain is marked by rolling hills and steep uplands. If those conditions were not difficult enough, any pathways to move transport by foot is typically covered in overgrown forest growth coming from the surrounding tropical forests.

Though the Tucanos have their own language, different dialects are used for different purposes. Two familiar dialects are Yohoraa and Wasona – both of which can also be used as a second language when it comes to doing business with other tribes.

Fishing stands out as the number one male activity when it comes to both hobby and nourishment. Fish is a major source of protein for the tribe and typically males use a variety of techniques ranging from arrows to even poison as a means of catching a substantial number of fish. Women also have a large part in creating their own food by means of agriculture. Vast acres of land are cleared every year for the planting of various crops that are aimed as a supplement to the main meal. Bitter manioc, also known as cassava, is the most important crop and is known to be a dietary staple for the tribe. More well-known crops such as squash, melons and yams are also grown and prepared for everyday feasts.

Additional Information

Tucano – Culture summary from the Ethnographic Atlas.
Ayahuasca Tales
Vocabulário tucano
Macro Tucano
Macro-Tucano
Museum of Natural History – Tucano introduction

4 thoughts on “Tucano (Tukano) Indians”

  1. i was wondering what the geometric patterns represent in a symbolic manner. the stars,the earth,power ect? or are they religious symbols or writing? and how is the meaning interpreted?

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