The Katukina Tribe

The Katukina tribe has an interesting story. Until recently they lived on the Gregorio River, the same region and tribal land as the Yawanawa with whom they have many family relations through marriages. In the eighties they moved to the Campinas River where they worked for the government on the highway, and most Katukina still live there. An interesting fact is that although they have had contact with whites for a long time and already quite some time live very close to the road they are one of the tribes that best preserved their language. Amongst themselves they don´t speak Portuguese, children only learn Portuguese after they become seven and many of the women speak hardly any Portuguese. Most of the other Pano tribes of the region apart from the Kaxinawa have lost most of their language. The Katukina were one of the first to travel outside the state of Acre with their medicines, especially the spread of Kambo was pioneered by them and they can be considered masters of the medicine, contrary to some non indigenous charlatans that auto denominate themselves as masters.

Defining who the Katukina are on the basis of their name alone is not an easy task. Since the first half of the 19th century, the historical records produced by missionaries, travellers and government agents concerning the indigenous peoples of the Juruá river refer to all the known indigenous groups by the name Katukina. According to the anthropologist Paul Rivet, though, ‘Katukina’ – or Catuquina, Katokina, Katukena, Katukino – is a generic term that came to be attributed to five linguistically distinct and geographically proximate groups (Rivet 1920). Today this number is reduced to three: one from the Katukina linguistic family in the region of the Jutaí river in Amazonas state, and two from the Pano linguistic family in Acre state. Neither of the two Pano groups known by the name ‘Katukina’ recognise the word as a self-designation. Members of one of the groups, located by the shores of the Envira river close to the town of Feijó, prefer to be known as Shanenawa, their own name for themselves. Those from the other group do not recognise any meaning to ‘Katukina’ in their own language, but have nonetheless adopted it, saying that the designation was in fact ‘given by the government.’

This text relates to the latter group only. The name ‘Katukina’ came to be accepted by members of their two villages on the Campinas and Gregório rivers, who do not possess a common ethnic designation. The only existing self-designations which are widely accepted refer to the six clans into which they divide: Varinawa (people of the Sun), Kamanawa (people of the Jaguar), Satanawa (people of the Otter), Waninawa (people of the Peachpalm), Nainawa (people of the Sky) and Numanawa (people of the Dove). It is worth noting that apart from the Nainawa, these denominations are identical to the names of some sections of the Marúbo people.

The Katukina language belongs to the Pano linguistic family. Nasalization is one of its notable features. Most of the words are disyllabic and oxytonic and new words are formed by combining two words or including one or more suffixes. Personal pronouns make no distinction between gender. All the Katukina speak their own language when talking among themselves. Portuguese is only used to converse with non-Indians. Despite their long period of contact with the latter, less than half the Katukina population is fluent in Portuguese. The language spoken by the Katukina of the Campinas and Gregório rivers presents significant differences in relation to the language spoken by the Shanenawa. (

The Katukina are originally derived from 5 distinct linguistic tribes, yet nowadays they are composed of 3 smaller tribes that speak a type of Panoan and habitat the Gregorio (Fig. 1) and Jutaí River region around Acre and Amazonas (Rivet 1920). The name Katukina was given to the tribes by the government, and is therefore not used by the indigenous tribes themselves. The Katukina designate themselves into 6 clans: Varinawa (people of the Sun), Kamanawa (people of the Jaguar), Satanawa (people of the Otter), Waninawa (people of the Peachpalm), Nainawa (people of the Sky) and Numanawa (people of the Dove). Among these different clans, there are different beliefs and practices, e.g. some assert matrilinearity filiation, whereas others assume patrilinearity filiation. Moreover, also the language differs slightly between the clans. The ethnic group of the Katukina decreased immensely and almost disappeared during the latex cycle, as they were exploited, dislocated and scattered through the territory. By this forced migration throughout the whole region, the Katukina could not maintain their tribe and survived separately in the wild, often having to leave behind their mutilated friends and families. Almost a century later, the Katukina were allowed to habitat the land which once was their home. Since then they gained an 80% growth in tribe members, adding up to 594 members nowadays as compared to 177 members in 1977 (Funasa, 2010).

Social structure and gender roles
A typical Katukina village is assembled by an older married couple and their (married) children and grandchildren. The Katukina tend to marry only pano women, which are closely related to their families. Once they get married, the women start living next to the family of their husband. Polygamy is common among the Katukina man, and the different wives of one man are considered to be sisters. If a man is only married to one wife and he loses her through death or other reasons, he commonly gets married to the sister of his ex-wife. Already since a very young age, the Katukina divide social tasks between men and women. After puberty, the children are supporting their parents with domestic activities and thereby, they learn how to pursue important tasks for the tribe. Boys usually get trained in outside activities, as hunting, planting, and swidden clearance, whereas girls engage mainly in domestic activities, like preparing food, washing, and taking care of the children. Only some daily activities are shared by men and women, these are fishing and collecting fruits – the latter because the trees are often so tall that men need to climb them or cut them down. The successful completion of these daily activities is very important for men and women of the Katukina tribe. In order to get married, girls and boys must show their learned skills: boys need to proof their hunting and swidden clearance skills, whereas girls need to harvest manioc and prepare typical foods. If either the man/boy or the woman/girl fails to achieve these obligations, the marriage can be dissolved. A similar gender specific role can be seen during Kambo rituals, where men have to apply the venom on their arms and chest, to gain power in regions that are important for hunting and opening up swiddens. Girls, on the other hand, apply Kambo on their legs, to empower these for carrying baskets and their children.

Sacred spirits and plants
The Katukina carry a vast knowledge about plants and the spirit world, and they are deeply connected with the use of sacred plants. There exists a special relationship of the Katukina with the Kambo medicine, which is considered to be a big part of the tribal culture and knowledge. Even though the Katukina hold such a strong connection with sacred plants, they do not rely on a shamanistic application: every member can apply Kambo (Lima 2005; Lima and Labate 2012; Martins 2006). Moreover, Kambo is part of their culture since the beginnings of their tribe and has been used since then as an important vaccine and medicine. They consider themselves as the first tribe to receive Kambo straight from the frog. Moreover, they initiated the spread of Kambo into urban areas by sharing their knowledge about it with non-indigenous people and even with public newspapers like The New York Times. Therefore, they are considered the grandfathers of the frog medicine, and they have a unique and powerful way of applying this sacred tool. donates for building a medicine house for the Katukina tribe

Click here for the most recent update on our sponsoring projects.

We are proud to present the first project we are financing for the Katukina tribe, together with their chief. The project we are supporting is at their new Aldeia village. Chief Fernando Katukina is starting a new village deeper into the forest to be further from the road and all the problems it brings, such as alcohol. They have cleared a new space in the forest and are building houses for the families that are accompanying him in this new phase. The new village will be focused on preserving their traditions and staying loyal to their ancient believes. These traditions and believes are intrinsically connected to their sacred medicines.

We at are also doing our part. We are supplying the funds for them to build their “Medicine House”. A refuge in the native forest where they will produce their medicines such as Rapé, Sananga and Ayahuasca, and providing a space to consecrate between themselves and with visitors from afar. Updates on the progress and images will be presented here soon.

When we first made exchanges with Rapé it was through members of the Katukina tribe living deep in the forests and far apart. Out of respect and admiration we decided to name our platform After many years of bringing the largest and most exclusive selection of Rapé to the world, through a twist of fate we are now starting a direct cooperation with the Katukina through the intermediary of their chief. We will be offering an exclusive selection of Rapé's from their tradition, produced by different families with knowledge of and authorization to work with the medicines of their tradition. The chief and his wife have collected these treasures from the makers and we made sure that they were duly paid for their work.

The Katukina have been known since the beginning of the spread of Rapé, being one of the first to bring this medicine to the world. With Kambo they were the very first in Brazil and they are considered of all tribes the most knowledgeable of its use. We are very honoured to support them and contribute to their courageous struggle of staying faithful to who they are and their traditions in the modern world.

We want all of you to know that we can only do this because of the trust our customers have in our work and intentions. Thank you all on behalf of the Katukina tribe and ourselves.

Lima EC (2005). Kampu, kampo, kambô: o uso do sapo-verde entre os Katukina. Revista do IPHAN, Rio de Janeiro; 32: 254-267
Lima EC, Labate BC (2012). Kambô: From the forests of Acre to the urban centers. Povos indígenas no Brasil; 2001/2005
Martins HM (2006). Os Katukina e o kampô: aspectos etnográficos da construção de um projeto de acesso a conhecimentos tradicionais.
Dissertação (Mestrado em Antropologia Social) – Universidade de Brasília, Brasília.