The 5,000 Tacana Indians live primarily along the Beni, Tahuamanù, Abuná, Acre, and Madre de Dios rivers in the department of La Paz, Bolivia (12° to 15° S, 67° to 68° 35′ W). Many may be found in or near the towns of Ixiamas, Tumupasa, and San Buenaventura in that department. The Tacana live in tropical forests and in the foothills of the Andes. Approximately 3,500 speak the Tacana language, which belongs to the Tacanan Family and which has two dialects (Tumupasa or Maracáni and Isiama or Ydiam). Pedro Anzules Camporedondo first contacted the Tacana in 1539, and in the sixteenth century Franciscan missionaries established missions among them. When the Franciscans came, many Tacanans spoke Quechua; the missionaries supported the use of that language, with the result that in some regions Quechua has entirely replaced the Tacana language. Today, the Tacana increasingly work for cash as laborers and cattle raisers, although many are still subsistence farmers.
Traditionally, the Tacana depended primarily on foraging, especially for vegetables and fruits; most important were Brazil nuts and the fruits of palm trees, and honey and turtle eggs were also significant elements of the Tacana diet. Hunting was a group effort involving the encircling of game with people and dogs (dogs were introduced in the nineteenth century) and killing the game with bows and arrows. The Tacana use various methods in fishing. When the floods recede at the beginning of the dry season, they capture fish in the pools left by receding waters. They also shoot fish with bows and arrows and drug them with the sap of the soliman tree. Large siluroid fish are caught using a wooden double hook, the design of which is unique to South America. In addition to dogs, the Tacana raise chickens, and in the twentieth century adopted cattle and horse husbandry. The Tacana are also horticulturists whose gardens measure an average 50 by 20 meters; the gardens are scattered, and much time is spent in traveling from one to the other. They also have plantations of bananas and plantains along rivers.
Traditionally, some Tacana groups lived in dwellings averaging 18 meters by 6 meters and housing up to twenty families, although they slept in small huts that were designed to exclude mosquitoes and vampire bats. Other groups lived behind simple windbreaks constructed of a row of large leaves. Some groups used no furniture and slept on the ground, whereas others used pieces of bark as beds.
The Tacana are divided into exogamous patrilineal descent groups. A chief gains his position by virtue of personality, having a large a family and being the son of the former chief. Sometimes a group splits if the new chief's brother wishes to be chief himself. A chief's followers must work for him.
Children marry at the age of 9 or 10, but marriage is not consummated until after puberty. Women deliver their children in the forest, and men observe the couvade. Marriages are very easily ended.
The Tacana play a ball game in which they hit the ball with their bellies, which they protect with belts of bark.
Among some Tacana groups, funerals begin even before the subject of the funeral has died. Some groups bury their dead in their huts, others in the bush with their possessions. Among one Tacana group, the ghost of the deceased is prevented from returning by moving the door of his or her house.
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Ottaviano, John (1980). Notas sobre la cultura Tacana. Riberaita: Instituto Lingüístico de Verano.