Subsistence and Commercial Activities. The Yukuna traditionally have been slash-and-burn horticulturists, and hunters, gatherers, and fishers within the rainforest. Bitter manioc is the staple crop. During the dry season (November to February) cultivated food is abundant, as well as certain types of fish and hunted animals (tapir, deer, peccaries, monkeys, capybaras, armadillos, etc.), whereas during the wet season (March to October) there is an abundance of wild fruits, and certain wild game are hunted near the fruiting trees or in the flooded forest.
Natural resources are harvested only after a shamanistic consultation on ecological accountability that is made to assess the impact of any human action. Nature is said to be hierarchically organized in dominant biomes and its own maloca networks, where certain masters of habitats "exchange" resources with humans. Shamans intercede "In Thought" to determine the sites, size, and amount of resources extracted. It is believed that only after Nature is "paid" for its labor can the Yukuna transform with their own labor the means of their subsistence (see "Religious Beliefs").
Each woman has three or four chagras or horticultural plots, which are about 2 hectares in size, each of which is in different stages of production. After two years, these sites are relatively fallowed and no longer planted, but certain resources continue to be extracted throughout the years. Around each maloca there are house gardens where planted fruit trees are continually enriched with organic matter, creating nutrient-rich terra preta ("black earth") soils for present and future agricultural use.
Women make manioc flour to sell to local merchants in order to buy cloth, hammocks, sewing machines, sugar, and salt; men sell wood planks and dried or salted meat and fish to the mission schools and to local merchants in La Pedrera in order to buy shotguns, clothes, fishhooks and line, hammocks, gasoline, and alcoholic beverages—or work for short periods in the gold mines at Traira to buy these commodities. Despite the impact of the market economy, most Yukuna ideas about value and exchange revolve around traditional shamanistic concepts, and their subsistence activities are conducted in the context of sexual and alimentary fasting and other shamanistic prescriptions.
Industrial Arts. Yukuna women still make their own pottery for daily and ceremonial use: large griddle plates and various types of clay vessels with caraipe (tree-bark) temper, monochrome slip, and a smoked/smudged vegetable glaze. Men weave baskets for daily use and learn their elaborate symbolism during male initiation rites. Most woodwork is done by the men: oars, canoes, troughs for pounding coca leaves, manguare hollow-tree drums, red and black hardwood staffs and stick rattles, and "thinking" stools. Men also build the monumental maloca in communal work parties that last two weeks. The complex admixtures of different plants' chemical substances to make poisons, dyes, medicine, or food usually require specialized technical procedures that are the legacy of groups of initiated adults. The secret meaning of cultural artifacts is gradually taught along gender lines throughout a person's life cycle.
Trade. Since colonial times many types of Western merchandise have reached the Indians through local non-Indian merchants who hold Indians in patron-client and bond-labor relations. This system of indebtedness-for-life prevails as the main form of trade relations, in which Indians acquire merchandise in an unequal exchange of their labor and natural products. Until recently, trade was done mainly through mission stores or Brazilian boats. Nowadays, many commercial products arrive by air transportation and there is an increased inflow of cash, wages, and merchandise. Indian-run cooperatives were established in the mid-seventies in an attempt to set fair prices for their rubber and lumber products, to regain ethnic pride, and as a means of understanding commercial dealings.
Division of Labor. Women do most of the planting, harvesting, and processing of tubers, as well as the cooking of food and socialization of infants; they occasionally hunt small rodents near or in their chagras and fish with poison in creeks. Men hunt, fish, gather wild fruits, and plant and harvest only the crops of coca, tobacco, pineapple, and certain domesticated palms. In this patrilocal, patrilineal society, men have the prestigious roles of headman, shaman, singer/chanter, and family head, and they preside over major ceremonies in the maloca, but the headman's wife and the older women can make certain privileged female decisions concerning soils, human fertility, and the secret protection of women's power. Women inherit manioc strains and plant seedlings from their mothers and convey horticultural knowledge to their daughters, whereas men transmit among themselves their knowledge concerning their hunting, gathering, and fishing territories as well as of their traditional residence sites. Although women can have more prestigious traditional roles after menopause, they own the knowledge of childbirth and infanticide. Some young women and men work for wages at the mission school or in the town.
Land Tenure. As an ethnic group, the Yukuna traditionally own the area of the Miriti-Paraná and lower Caquetá rivers. According to their oral tradition and historical practice, each maloca section owns a territory in which it rotates residence and subsistence strategies and where its ancestors have been buried. Since 1981 most of these lands have been recognized by the Colombian government as resguardo or collective Indian property, but the subsoil and public waters as well as gold mines and mineral deposits are claimed by the nation. Resguardo lands are communal property and have the characteristics of being inalienable, nontransferable, and unforeclosable.