The Chimane build their houses on the banks or in the vicinity of rivers, streams, or dead river branches. Nearby, at a distance of no more than 500 meters, they cultivate their fields, seeking areas that escape seasonal flooding. They traditionally form small settlements of two or three huts. Place-names loosely reflect the characteristics of the area (e.g., "where there are fish" or "sweet fruit of the totai palm"). Settlements are respected by other members of the society, but formal usufruct to the site does not exist. During the fishing season, settlements are abandoned and families follow schools of fish in their canoes. In specific places along the river, families group together on the shore and build simple huts of palm leaves that shelter them from sun and rain. The number of huts, each occupied by a nuclear family, depends on the fishing conditions in the river. With a degree of regularity a family will return annually to "its" spot on the river, although they have no formal permanent claim to the site.
In any case, neither so-called permanent settlements nor encampments restrict the Chimane in moving around with great flexibility within what they consider their territory. In sequence of relative importance, reasons for moving from one place to another include family obligations, witchcraft, and ecological-economic considerations. The practice of congregating in villages was imposed upon the Chimane by Catholic and evangelical missionaries and does not correspond to the traditional settlement pattern of the group. Villages like the Catholic mission of Fatima and the New Tribes Mission settlement on the Río Maniqui near the mestizo village of San Borja are less than thirty-five years old. The majority of Chimane reject permanent village life because it negates the basic tenets of their socioreligious and economic systems. Insofar as they reside in villages, they do so mainly for protection from lumber millers and clandestine drug traffickers who have invaded their territory. These invasive forces deprive the Indians of their traditional settlements and destroy their basic economic resources, game and fish.