Collection Description

Brief Culture Description

Culture Name


Culture Description

The Tukano are a group of tribes speaking languages of the Eastern Tukanoan language family. They occupy the tropical forest areas of the Comisaría del Vaupés, a region roughly the size of New England within southeastern Colombia and northwestern Brazil. Tukano subsistence activities include fishing, hunting, collecting, and horticulture. First contact with Spanish fortune hunters in the mid-16th Century was followed by mission work from several different orders up to the 20th Century. The late 19th Century saw a flurry of nativistic movements.


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South America --Amazon and Orinoco




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Collection Overview

Documents referred to in this section are included in the eHRAF collection and are referenced by author, date of publication, and eHRAF document number.

The Tukano file consists of seventeen documents. Three of these are translations from the Spanish (Fulop 1955, 1956, 1954, nos. 1-3), and one from the Portuguese (Silva 1962, no. 4). The remaining thirteen works are all in English. Fieldwork for these studies was conducted intermittently for a period of over forty years from 1939 to 1980. Probably the most comprehensive ethnographic account covering the Tukano as a whole is that found in Silva (1962, no. 4). This work, the result of the author's fieldwork, archival research, and interviews with Brazilian missionaries, contains quotations from early documents, a vast amount of linguistic material, descriptions of material culture, and a discussion of the identification of Tukano subgroups. The three Fulop publications, used in conjunction with those by Sorensen (1967, no. 7), and Reichel-Dolmatoff (1987, no. 9), provide supplemental data to that found in Silva. These works present information on kinship terminology, folktales and myths, cosmology, shamanism, agriculture (including the growing, processing, and use of coca), and multilingualism and tribal exogamy. The remaining documents in the file relate to specific subgroups of the Tukano. Goldman's two publications (1963, 1976, nos. 5 & 14), provide well-rounded ethnographic coverage on the Cubeo, including data on the economy, social structure, marriage, political organization, the ancestor cult, and religion. Similar data are provided on the Bará by Jackson (1983, no. 12); the Makuna by Århem (1981, no. 13); the Desana by ReichelDolmatoff (1971, no. 8); the Barasana by C. Hugh-Jones (1979, no. 11); and the Wanano by Chernela (1993, no. 18). Other documents deal with more specific ethnographic topics. For example Dufour's articles on the Tatuyo focus on the dietary needs of this group and the expenditure of energy by women in horticultural work (Dufour 1983, 1984, nos. 15-16), while Chernela discusses the concept of linguistic exogamy among the Arapaso and Makuna. Stephen Hugh-Jones who shared a common field site among the Barasana Indians with his wife Christine, whose work is mentioned above, provides an in-depth study of the YURUPARA (YURUPARÍ) initiation cult of this tribe, interspersed with lengthy discussions on religious symbolism (see S. Hugh-Jones 1979, no. 10).

For more detailed information on the content of the individual works in this file, see the abstracts in the citations preceding each document.

The culture summary was written by John Beierle in December, 1996, and supplemented with additional information from the article "Tucano" by Eleanor Swanson in Sixty Cultures: A Guide To The HRAF Probaability Files. 1977. Robert O. Lagacé, ed. New Haven, Conn.: Human Relations Area Files, Inc. The synopsis and indexing notes were written by John Beierle in December, 1996.

Collection Indexing Notes

alliance -- generally in terms of marriage between local groups -- categories 571, 581

BALAY -- a flat circular basket tray -- category 285

BOGÁ -- bio-cosmic energy -- category 822

CACHIRÍ -- a social reunion during which CHICHA beer is consumed -- category 574

CHAGRA -- a cultivated field or garden plot -- category 241 chanter -- reciter of myths and religious chants; a type of priest -- category 793

CHICHA -- a slightly fermented beer made of maize, manioc or palm fruits -- category 273

DABUCURÍ -- a ceremonial gathering during which gifts are distributed between allies (see also POOA) -- categories 796, 431, 430

dancers/chanters -- categories 554, 535, 538

exogamous groups -- a collection of sibs arranged in a hierarchical order -- category 614

gourd of beeswax -- application in ceremonies -- categories 237, 415, 778

KUMÚ -- a Tukano individual with priestly functions -category 793, 756

KURUPÍra -- forest spirits -- category 776

language groups -- composed of sibs who share a common ancestor and speak one language -- categories 614, 619

language family -- composed of related member language groups -category 619

local group -- categories 621, 628

Macu-Tukano relationships -- categories 629, 563

MAHSA WAMI -- the village headman -- category 622

MALOCA -- a large communal house occupied by several nuclear families -- categories 342, 592

MASA -- the sib -- category 614

MASA BUTU -- any descent unit above the level of the sib; generally refers to a phratric segment -- category 614


MOJOJOI -- large, edible larvae -- category 262

OHPË -- the household head -- category 592 order -- category 614

POOA -- a ceremony of exchange between sibs (see also DABUCURÍ) -- categories 796, 431, 614

residence group (WINGANA) -- category 592 territorial group -- category 619

TIPITÍ (MATAPI) -- a sleeve-like elastic tube made of basketry, used in squeezing out the poisonous juices of grated manioc -- categories 285, 252

VAÍ-MAHSË -- The Master of Animals -- category 776

WATI (WAHTÍA) -- spirits in general or often spirits of the dead -- categories 776, 775

wax, burning of -- as protective magic and for sending away disease -- categories 789, 751

WI NGANA -- see residence group

YAJÉ -- a hallucinogenic plant -- category 276

YURUPARÍ (JURUPARI) --a ceremonial complex -- categories 796, 881 and/or 852

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