Ticuna Indians

The Ticuna, also spelled Tukuna or Tikuna, reside in the Brazilian Amazon rain forest near the borders of Peru, Brazil and Colombia along the Rio Santo Antonio do Ica and Rio Solimones. The Ticuna were one of the first major tribes of the Amazon to be contacted by the early conquistadors. Even with over 400 years of contact, the Ticuna Nation has managed to preserve their personal identity through their native language, traditional religions, rituals, and cultural art forms. They have survived the constant threat of violent extermination and forced integration policies by Western society.

There are over 70 established Ticuna aldeias (villages) in the Alto Solimones. With a population of over 36,000 within the Brazilian Amazon, an additional 6,000 in Colombia and another 7,000 in Peru, the Ticuna are the most numerous tribes in the general area. They’re also one of the last remaining large population groups of indigenous people in Brazil. Much of the Ticuna population resides along a 600 mile stretch of Amazon. There are currently 70 established villages, known as “aldeias” in the Tikuna tongue, in the area along the Santo Antonio do Ica and Solimones. Within these villages, most Ticuna live in malocas, large hut-like dwellings that offer a mythological significance among the indigenous people.

Like many other indigenous peoples, the Ticuna have suffered their fair share of violence and displacement in recent times. Constant encroachment of their lands by loggers, rubber-tappers and fishermen has resulted in a number of violent conflicts, including the infamous Helmet Massacre of 1988. Four people died and an additional nineteen were wounded; ten other Ticuna disappeared, their whereabouts unknown to this day. In response to these atrocities and to protect the Ticuna indigenous population, Brazil formally recognize their right to their lands in the early 1990s. Forced integration into Brazilian society has also taken a toll on the Ticuna population.

The Ticuna are an extraordinarily artistic people with a rich cultural history. The indigenous group is also one of the few Amazon tribes that paint just for the sake of painting, as opposed to using paint as decoration on utilitarian objects. This particular trait allows the Ticuna to create a vast spectrum of artistic crafts for genuine enjoyment. Alongside traditional rituals, these crafts are also used to mark important milestones in one’s life. Much of their artistic output consists of wood and stone sculptures, basketry and mask making. The Ticuna are also adept at making bark cloth, a natural, paper-like fiber fabric that is often used as a canvas or paper for painted materials.

Ceremonial Masks and Costumes

A very traditional and artistic tribe, the Ticuna have a very rich culture using ceremony and ritual to commemorate many facets of their life. They are known for the traditional masks and costumes they use in these ceremonies.

When a Ticuna dies he is buried in a canoe that has a top carved for it. With this canoe he will cross the river of death. Within the canoe are put things he will need in the afterlife. During the funeral there is a ceremony in which the members of the tribe dance with masks that are carved to represent all the birds and animals that the deceased will want to hunt in the next life. This ritual is designed to make certain that these kinds of game will be plentiful for him. The mask is made of hand carved wood on pounded bark cloth. Both the wood and the bark cloth are decorated with natural vegetable paints. Typically the bark cloth goes over the top of the head and the carving rests on the forehead allowing the dancer to see through the porous cloth or sometimes he sees through the mouth or eyes of the carving.

Full size Ticuna Funeral Masks  – bark cloth 13 to 17 inches long:

Alligator mask Jaguar mask
Alligator mask Jaguar mask
mask mask
Alligator and Jaguar mask
mask mask
mask mask

The full body mask below is made of pounded bark cloth, beeswax faces, fibers and vegetable dyes by the Ticuna Indians. Traditionally, when a young girl reaches puberty she is placed in a hut by herself where she stays two or three years with only her mother being allowed to visit. At the end of this period the father throws a huge party. The girl is given a drink that makes her slightly drunk or numb and the father pulls all of the hair out of her head one strand at a time. It is said that if she can bear this, she can stand the pain of childbirth. Afterwards there is much dancing and celebration. The men wear the suits with the large penis’. These represent the monkey figure. This full body mask is also used in the young girls puberty ceremony. It does not have the penis and represents the Mother of the Wind figure. Most Ticuna today no longer do the forced time alone or the pulling of the hair, but continue with other rituals including dancing with the masks.

mask mask
genuine ritual mask mask face

Ceremonial Rattles

The Ticuna are also well known for creating elaborate ceremonial rattles which also used in various rituals. These rattles are created by relatively simple means – villagers simply wrap a collection of nut hulls onto a stick, creating the desired sound effect. Nevertheless, each ceremonial rattle there is a unique design, much of which also holds a great deal of religious significance.

Ticuna Ceremonial Rattles Ticuna Ceremonial Rattles are hand made with nut hulls on a stick decorated with burned-on designs.


whistles These whistles are made from small gourds on a bamboo stick and decorated with weaving and colorful feathers. They are played by blowing down as into a coke bottle. Approx. 9″ tall.


Ticuna Dolls

They make bark cloth which is a natural fiber, paper-like fabric which they often paint. This fabric is often incorporated into many things such as the below dolls as well as painting on it as on canvas or paper. They are one of the few Amazon tribes that paint just for the worth of the painting itself as opposed to painting as decoration on a utilitarian object.

ticuna doll ticuna doll

All Photos Copyright Hands Around the World

stone animal Intricately hand carved stone caiman or alligator encircled by a snake.
stone figure Covered Ticuna basket, 14″ x 13″
ticuna sculpture Ticuna sculpture

Additional Information

Ticuna Indians – from The Catholic Encyclopedia
Ticuna vocabulary
The Wire – July 2001 Ticuna – Amnesty International
Instituto Pólis – Projeto Educação Ticuna
Language Museum – Ticuna
Arte indígena ticuna
Photo Ticuna children

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