Marriage. The main characteristic of Desana marriage is language-group exogamy; a person must always marry a spouse speaking a different language and, therefore, belonging to a different phratry. The Desana traditionally intermarry mainly with the Pira-Tapuya and the Tukano proper but marriages with other phratries are fairly common. This form of exogamy is combined with patrilineal descent and virilocal residence, cross-cousin marriage being the preferential form of union. Marriages are monogamous but polygyny does occur. Marriage is essentially a sister exchange between men of different but respectively preferential marriage groups. Formal divorce is unknown, but separation of spouses is not unusual.
Domestic Unit. Until recently the basic domestic unit was the longhouse inhabited by four to eight nuclear families, who formed a tightly organized cooperative.
Inheritance. Ritual objects, passed on from father to son, constitute the most valuable property. Fields or malocas are sometimes passed on to the youngest son.
Socialization. Infants and young children are raised permissively, but boys of 5 or 6 years of age are guided and controlled by their fathers. As boys approach puberty, they are severely disciplined by their fathers and elders. Emphasis is placed upon exogamy, the conservation of natural resources, and the acquisition of traditional values. Mission-educated Indians mostly become wage laborers, boatmen, or servants.