Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Swidden agriculture is the rule, and manioc cultivation provides the staple food in the form of coarse flour and large flat cassava cakes. Women spend most of their time performing the daily tasks of harvesting and processing the poisonous tubers. Palm fruits of many different species are important food items. Game and fish are fairly abundant, and the men spend much time in the forest or on the river. The most important game animals are large rodents, monkeys, peccaries, deer, tapir, as well as game birds such as guans, tinamous, and tucans. Honey, edible insects, and many wild-growing fruits are readily available. Garden crops include tobacco, coca, peppers, and cultivated fruit trees such as peach palms.
Industrial Arts. Native arts and crafts include canoe making, fish-trap construction, bark-cloth preparation, basketry, pottery, blowgun making, feather work, and the manufacture of ritual adornments.
Trade. The Desana traditionally trade with the northern Arawak, exchanging goods that symbolically represent women. Trade items acquired at mission stations include clothes, hammocks, cooking vessels, bush knives, fishhooks, and flashlights.
Division of Labor. The men cut clearings in the forest and then burn the trees and brush, but otherwise agriculture is a female activity; men and boys hunt and fish; both sexes are active in the gathering of insects, forest fruits, and wild honey. The daily food supply is prepared by women and girls, but only men smoke game or fish, manufacture ritual objects, and prepare coca, tobacco, and all hallucinogenic substances together with their apparatus.
Land Tenure. Fields and garden plots are privately owned, but hunting, fishing, and gathering territories are loosely defined as belonging to the inhabitants of nearby malocas. Tribal lands are delimited as such only in shamanic geographical terms based upon ethnohistorical tradition but are not coherent and do not correspond to reality.