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Ticuna people in Amazonas, Brazil, ca. 1865
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The Ticuna were originally a tribe that lived far away from the rivers and whose expansion was kept in check by neighboring peoples. Their historical lack of access to waterways and their practice of endogamy has led to the Ticuna being culturally and genetically distinct from other Amazonian tribes. The first contact with outsiders occurred on 22 April 1500 when a Portuguese fleet exploring the Amazon came into contact with the Ticuna. Sustained contact with the Portuguese and other outsiders began in 1649. Since the Ticuna lived relatively inland compared to other tribes they were less affected by the diseases and violence caused by colonialism, hence why the Ticuna today have the largest population of any Amazonian peoples. However the Ticuna still suffered greatly, especially in the rubber cultivation that began in the late 19th century where many Ticuna were used for slave labor.
Ticuna as a Brazilian tribe has faced violence from loggers, fishermen, and rubber-tappers entering their lands around the Solimões River. Four Ticuna people were murdered, 19 were wounded, and ten had disappeared in the 1988 Helmet Massacre. By the 1990s, Brazil formally recognized the Ticunas' right to their lands.
Ticuna people speak the Ticuna language, which is usually identified as a language isolate, although it might possibly be related to the extinct Yuri language thus forming the hypothetical Ticuna–Yuri grouping. The Ticuna language was once thought to be an Arawakan language, but his has now been discredited as more likely the Ticuna have adopted many linguistic features due to long history of interaction with Arawakan-speaking tribes. It is written in the Latin script.
Religion and rituals
Ticuna people historically practiced Shamanism, although with the influence of Christian missionaries since contact Shamans have becaome rare in all but the most isolated communities. Ta'e was the Ticuna creator god who guarded the earth, while Yo'i and Ip were mythical heroes in Ticuna folklore which helped fight off demons. Depending on different estimates some say that the Ticuana primarily practice ethnic religion, while other estimates say that 30% to 90% are Christian.
The Ticuna practice a coming-of-age ceremony for girls when they reach puberty called a Pelazon. After the girl's first menstruation her whole body is painted black with the clan symbol drawn on her head. All their hair is pulled out and they wear a dress custom made from eagle feathers and snail shells. The girl then must continuously jump over a fire. After four days the girl is considered a woman and is eligible for marriage. Ticuana men and women must marry outside their own clans according to customs. Nowadays the ritual is shorter and less intense as it was historically.
Today most Ticuna people dress in western clothing and only wear their traditional garments made out of tree bark and practice their ceremonies on special occasions or for tourists. Most Ticuna nowadays are fluent in Portuguese or Spanish depending on the country that they live in, and mostly use Spanish and Portuguese names. Poverty and lack of education are persistent problems in most Ticuna communities, leading to government and NGO efforts to increase educational and academic opportunities. In December 1986 the General Organization of Bilingual Ticuna Teachers (or OGPTB in its Portuguese/Spanish abbreviation) was founded in order to provide Ticuna children with quality bilingual education and more opportunities. In 1998 there were only around 7,400 ethnic Ticuna children enrolled in elementary school, by 2005 the number has more than doubles to 16,100. Another goal of the OGPTB was the gradual replacement of non-Indigenous teaches with Ticuna ones for Ticuna students as to better provide bilingual education. By 2005 over half of the teachers where ethnic Ticuna. So effect the OGPTB program has been that it is now being expanded and copied to better serve the educational needs of other indigenous people in Brazil and Colombia.
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