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Ticuna Indians

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A tribe of Indians of some importance, constituting a distinct linguistic stock, inhabiting the river settlements or wandering in the forests along the north bank of the upper Amazon (Marañon or Solimoes), about the confluence of the Javari, ranging from about Loreto in Peru to below Tabatinga in Brazil. They number about 2500 souls, nearly equally divided between the two governments. About one-third are more or less Christianized, the others retaining their primitive wild habits. Physically they are one of the finest tribes of the upper Amazon. In character they are frank, honest, and of affectionate disposition. The wandering Ticuna, some of whom at times reside temporarily in the river villages, go naked except for the G-string and a collar of jaguar or monkey teeth, to which is added a painted robe on ceremonial occasions. They wear the hair cut across the forehead and hanging down full length behind. They wear armlets of bright-coloured feathers and paint and tattoo their faces in various patterns. They live by hunting and fishing, and the preparation and sale of the curari poison, here call from them the "Ticuna" poison, for use upon blow-gun arrows. In this manufacture they are recognized experts and hold the process a secret, although it is known the Strychnos castelneana and Cocculus toxicofera are among the ingredients. The poison is kept in cane tubes or clay pots of their making, and is the chief object of intertribal trade throughout the upper Amazon region. They also gather the forest products, as wax, rubber, gum, and sarsaparilla, for sale to the traders. They believe in a good spirit, Nanuola, and a dreaded evil spirit, Locasi. There is a sort of circumcision and baptismal ceremony in connection with the naming of children. They are fond of elaborate masked dances. Girls on arriving at puberty are closely secluded for a long period, terminating with a general feast and drinking orgy, the liquor being the masato, or chicha, prepared from chewed and fermented corn or bananas. Wives are obtained by purchase. The dead are buried in great earthen jars, together with food and, in the case of a warrior, broken weapons, the ceremony concluding with a drinking feast.

Some effort at the conversion of the Ticuna was made by the Portuguese Carmelites from Brazil about the middle of the eighteenth century, but without result, owing to the Indian dread of the Portuguese slave-hunters. About 1760 the Jesuit Father Franciscus, of the neighbouring mission of San Ignacio amoung the Peva, friends and allies of the Ticuna, succeeded in gathering some of the latter into a new mission village which he called Nuestra Señ de Loreto (now Loreto, Peru), one of the "lower missions" of the Jesuit province of Mainas. At the time of the expulsion of the Jesuits in 1768 it was in charge of Father Segundo del Castillo and contained 700 souls, being one of the largest of the province. After the withdrawal of the Jesuits the missions were given over to the Franciscans, under whom the work was continued until interrupted by the long Revolutionary struggle beginning in 1810. Under the new republican government the missions were neglected and rapidly declined, but the Christian Ticuna are still served by resident priests at Loreto and Tabatinga, including the auxiliary villages. Marcoy gives a vocabulary of the language.

From the American officer, Lieut. Herndon, we have the following interesting account (condensed) of the Ticuna mission village of Caballococha near Loreto, as he found it in 1851: "The village is situated on the caño (river inlet), about a mile and a half from the entrance and at the same distance from the lake. It contains 275 inhabitants, mostly Ticunas Indians. These are darker than the generality of the Indians of the Marañon, though not so dark as the Marubos, and they are beardless, which frees them from the negro look that these last have. Their houses are generally plastered with mud inside, and are far neater looking and more comfortable than the other Indian residences that I have seen. This is however entirely owing to the activity and energy of the priest, Father Flores, who seems to have them in excellent order. They are now building a church for him, which will be the finest in the Montaña (forest region). The men are all decently clad in frocks and trousers; and the women, besides the usual roll of cotton cloth around the loins, wear a short tunic covering the breast. Father flores keeps the Indians at work, sees that they keep themselves and houses clean, and the streets of the village in order, and I saw none of the abominable drinking and dancing with which the other Indians invariably wind up the Sunday." Through the kindness of Father flores he was able to witness a heathen incantation over a sick man. On approaching the house they heard a number of persons singing inside, and, says Herndon, "I was almost enchanted myself. I never heard such tones, and think that even instrumental music could not be made to equal them. I have frequently been astonished at the power of the Indians to mock animals, but I had heard nothing like this before. The tones were so low, so faint, so guttural, and at the same time so sweet and clear, that I could scarcely believe they came from human throats, and they seemed fitting sounds in which to address spirits of another world." When they entered, the singers fled, and they found only two men sitting by a fire of blazing copal gum, filling an earthen pot with the juice of chewed tobacco, and plainly showing by their manner that the ceremony was not intended for strangers.


BRINTON, American Race (New York, 1891); CASTELNAU, Expédition dans . . . . . .l' Amérique du Sud (6 vols., Paris, 1850-1); CHANTRE Y HERRERA, Historia de las Misiones de la Compaña de Jesus en el Marañon Español (written before 1801) (Madrid, 1901); HERNDON, Exploration of the Valley of the Amazon (Washington, 1854); MARCOY, Voyage á travers l'Amérique du Sud (2 vols., Paris, 1869); VON MARTIUS, Ethnographie und Sprachenkunde Amerikas, I (Leipzig, 1867); RAIMONDI, El Perú , II (Lima, 1876); IDEM, Apuntes sobre la provincia litoral de Loreto (Lima, 1862); MARKHAM, Tribes in the Valley of the Amazon in Jour. Anthrop. Institute, XXIV (London, 1895).

About this page

APA citation. Mooney, J. (1912). Ticuna Indians. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

MLA citation. Mooney, James. "Ticuna Indians." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 14. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912. <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Calvin H. Marousch. Dedicated to my cousin May Virginia (Marble) White.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. July 1, 1912. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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