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There are many indigenous tribes and groups who live in the north-western regions of Brazil, state of Amazonas, and south-western Colombia. They live near the streams of the Vaupés river (or Uaupes) and tributaries, the Tiquié, Papuri, Querari and other minor rivers.


There are 17 different ethnic groups, many of which also live in Colombia, in the Uaupés and Apaporis river basins, which are tributaries of the Japurá. These indigenous groups speak languages pertaining to the Eastern Tukanoan family (only the Tariana language is Arawakan). They participate in various social activities, such as marriages, rituals and commerce. These activities are part of a socio-cultural complex, called social system of the Uaupés/Pira-Paraná area. It's part of a broader culture area, which include populations which speak languages belonging to the Arawak and Maku families.


A significant number of people from the Uaupés basin live near the Rio Negro and in cities such as São Gabriel and Santa Isabel. Around 20 thousand people speak a Tukano language. The other languages of this family are spoken by other people who live in more remote regions.

Ethnic groups and demography

There are more than 200 villages and small settlements along the Vaupés river and its tributaries. Many people belonging to these ethnic groups live in some cities of the region, notably São Gabriel da Cachoeira, Santa Isabel and Barcelos.


Arapaso - An eastern Tukano group who only speak Tukano, and not Portuguese. They live near the Middle Uaupés, in villages such as Loiro, Paraná Jucá and São Francisco. Some families live on the Rio Negro and in São Gabriel. Bará - They call themselves Waípinõmakã. They live near the Tiquié River, north to the village of Trinidad, in Colombia; the upper Inambú stream and the upper Colorado and Lobo (tributaries of the Pira-Paraná). They are skilled in making baskets made of turi, used where the baskets made of vines by the Maku are not available. They are also skilled in manufacturing canoes.

Barasana - They call themselves Hanera. They live near the Tatu, Komeya, Colorado and Lobo streams, tributaries of the Pira-Paraná, and on the Pira-Paraná itself, in Colombia. Some of them are scattered across the Vaupés basin, in Brazil.

Desana - They call themselves Umukomasã. They live on the Tiquié River and its tributaries, the Cucura, Umari and Castanha; the Papuri River and its tributaries, the Turi and Urucu; besides parts of the Vaupés and Negro rivers, and cities in the region. There are around 30 divisions among the Desana, of chiefs, dancers, chanters, and servants. This number varies according to different sources. The Desana are skilled in making woven baskets, such as large apás (trays with internal hoops made of vines) and sieves.

Karapanã - They call themselves Muteamasa and Ukopinõpõna. They live on the Tí stream (tributary of the upper Vaupés) and upper Papuri, in Colombia. In Brazil they livein some villages near the rivers Tiquié and Negro. They used to have around eight subdivisions, but probably only four of these left descendants.

Kubeo - They call thermselves Kubéwa or Pamíwa. They speak a distinct language belonging to the Eastern Tukanoan family. Most of them live in Colombia near the upper Vaupés. In Brazil, they live in three villages near the upper Uaupés and are found in small numbers on the upper Aiari river. In contrast with most ethnic groups of the Vaupés, the Kubeo usually marry people of their own tribe, people who speak the same language. They are skilled in making barkcloth masks.

Makuna - They call themselves Yeba-masã. They live in Colombia, near the Pira-Paraná River, and near the Apapóris river. In Brazil, they are found on the upper Tiquié and on its tributaries, the Castanha and Onça streams. They are skilled in making blowguns with curare poison darts, canoes, and refining oars which they sell to Indians living near the upper Tiquié.

Miriti-tapuya or Buia-tapuya - They traditionally live near the Tiquié river, especially in communities and villages such as Iraiti, São Tomé, Vila Nova and Micura.

Pira-tapuya - They refer to themselves as Waíkana. They live near the middle Papuri (around Teresita) and on the lower Vaupés. Some of them also live in villages near the Negro river and São Gabriel.

Siriano - They refer to themselves as Siria-masã. They live near the upper Papuri, in Colombia. In Brazil, they are scattered throughout the Vaupés and Negro river basins.

Taiwano - They refer to themselves as Ukohinomasã. They live in Colombia, near the Caño Piedra and Tatu streams, tributaries of the Pira-Paraná River.

Tariana - They refer to themselves as Taliaseri. Most of these people used to speak an Arawak language, but many of them adopted an Eastern Tukanoan language spoken by the native neighbors. They live near the middle Uaupés, lower Papuri and upper Iauiari. They are skilled in making fishing tools such as the cacuri (fish trap).

Tatuyo - They call themselves Umerekopinõ. They live in Colombia, near the upper Pira-Paraná River, the upper Tí and the Caño Japu. In Brazil, it is usual to see women from the Tatuyo tribe married to men of other tribes.

Tukano - They call themselves Yepâ-masa or Daséa. They comprise the largest group of natives who speak a Tukano language. They are located mainly on the Tiquié, Papuri and Uaupés rivers; but they also live on the Rio Negro, below the mouth of the Uaupés, and also in the city of São Gabriel. The Tukano manufacture ritual benches of wood (sorva). The bench is a valued item, and it's mandatorily used in some cerimonies and rituals, where the leaders, the chanters (kumua) and cerimonial chiefs (bayá) sit.

Tuyuka - They refer to themselves as Dokapuara or Utapinõmakãphõná. They live near the upper Tiquié River, between the Caruru Rapids and the Colombian village of Trinidad. They are skilled in manufacturing canoes and used to make their own hammocks with buriti fiber. They also make woven baskets which they use to filter fruit juices.

Kotiria - They are located near the middle Uaupés. They are skilled in preparing red dye, carajuru, made from leaves of vine, and it is used in making ritual artifacts and painting of benches made by the Tukano, as well as for body painting. They are skilled in making baskets and produce barkcloth objects.

Yuruti - They refer to themselves as Yutabopinõ. They speak an Eastern Tukanoan language and they live in Colombia, near the upper Paca river, a tributary of the Papuri.


External links

Ethnic groups of the Rio Vaupes on socioambiental.org, in English

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