Ticuna Indians Ticuna Rites of Passage




Ticuna Pelazon



any cultures practice special ceremonies that mark the transition from childhood to adulthood. For many indigenous Amazonian tribes, these ceremonies take on special significance in that they enable the society to pass on their unique customs and knowledge from one generation to another, thus preserving an important part of the culture.

The Ticuna (also spelled Tikuna or Tukuna) Indians of Peru, Colombia, and Brazil practice a ceremony called “Pelazon” (in Spanish) or “Moça Nova” (in Portuguese). I was fortunate enough to have witnessed this ceremony when I hiked into an isolated Ticuna village on the border of Colombia and Peru. The four-day ceremony is only practiced during a full-moon and I was lucky to have had visited the Ticunas at that time. After a strenuous four-hour hike that began at six o’clock in the morning, I arrived at the village. Immediately, I went to the residence of the “Curaca” or chief of the village. The Curaca informed me that I was the first foreigner who had ever hiked into tTicuna Maskhe village. He was a very gracious individual who invited me into his home and explained that I had arrived at a very fortuitous moment in that a Pelazon was taking place in the village at that very moment. Never having heard of the ceremony, I inquired as to its significance. The Curaca explained that when a girl has her first menstrual cycle, she is placed into isolation in a small room and no one (other than several older women whose job it is to educate her) is allowed to visit the girl. During her isolation, she is taught about the myths, heroes, and history of the Ticunas. In addition, she is taught about her future responsibilities as an adult member of the tribe. This period of isolation varies, but can last up to six months, after which the Pelazon ceremony commences.

One feature that characterizes the ceremony is the use of the black dye obtained from fruit of the “huito” tree (Genipa americana). The entire body of the girl is painted black with huito and the symbol of her clan is painted on her face, and interestingly girls are not permitted to intermarry within their own clan. All her hair is removed. Formerly, they would actually pull out the hair out by hand, but currently the process is often less painful and scissors are sometimes used. But for the TicunTicuna Girls Pelazona girls that take part in this rite of passage, the pulling of the hair is not the most difficult part of the ceremony. Rather, enduring four days of the ceremony without being allowed to sleep is the most challenging aspect of the ceremony for the girls. During the ceremony, Ticuna girls are dressed with eagle feathers and wear a crown that is initially used to cover her eyes preventing her from seeing. Snail shells (which represent fertility) are hung from her belt as this ceremony is not only a rite of passage but a ceremony of fertility. For four long days the girls endure a rather loud ceremony with constant music (primarily drum-beating) singing, dancing, and purification by fire. Yes, fire! The purification consists of having the girls continuously jump over a campfire. Some participants wear huge masks which represent mythological beings and danger. The girls dance with the masked beings which symbolizes her metamorphosis into adulthood and her ability to successfully deal with the dangers of being an adult.

Ticuna GirlWhile the ceremony begins with the Ticuna girl leaving isolation, it ends with the girl being carried with a baby to a lake or river. There both she and the infant are placed into the water, representing sym-bolically a final cleansing before she is allowed to wear adult clothes and to enter the world of adulthood.

Since my first encounter that full-moon with the Ticunas, I have learned much about their rich and beautiful culture. Curiously, the Ticuna language is totally unique being unrelated to any other spoken language, analogous to the Basque language of Spain and France which is unrelated to all known languages. Later, I met Don Humberto, a Peruvian Ticuna who is perhaps the most knowledgeable medicine man in the entire Amazon. I owe much of my knowledge of medicinal plants to the famous Don Humberto who graciously spent much time teaching me the ways of the Ticunas.

If you would like to learn how you can meet the Ticuna Indians and find out how you can help them preserve their culture, please contact me at djpantone@amazon-indians.org


For more information about Amazon Indians, please visit www.amazon-indians.org/matis.  Videos of my expeditions with the Ticuna and Matis Indians are available on DVD and instant download. 


The author, Dr. Dan James Pantone, is the editor of Amazon-Indians and the founder of the Movement in the Amazon for Tribal Subsistence and Economic Sustainability, a non-profit association that is helping indigenous Amazonians so that they themselves can sustain their culture traditionally and independently.


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