The Tanimuca and Letuama Indians

The Tanimuca (or Ũ'páirã) and Letuama (or Rétuarã) are two exogamous patrilineal descent groups with privileged affinal relationships. They live in the south east of Colombia, mainly on the banks of the bottom of the Apaporis River, its tributary the Popeyaká, the bottom of Mirití-Paraná and its tributary the Caño Guacayá.

The Tanimuca and Letuama speak the same language belonging to the Tucanoan language family, but with some minor dialectal variations, which depends on the settlement area and other Arawakan and Tucanoan groups with whom they have exogamous relationships.

The Tanimuca population is estimated at around 300 individuals, and Letuama population is less than 200 individuals. Tanimuca have more affinal relationships with Yucuna-speaking population on Mirití-Paraná and Caño Guacayá than Letuama. Despite the fact that the Tanimuca and Letuama belong to the different language families, some words are sometimes similar in both languages.

Relatively little studies had been done on the Tanimuca language. Today, its classification within Tucanoan languages is still under debate. Some authors classify it in the western branch (Key, 1979: 120; Ruhlen, 1987: 372), others in the central branch (Storm 1992: 1), and others in the eastern branch (Eraso, 2006: 161; Ardila, 2000: 495).

Among the most interesting works regarding the Tanimuca-Letuama language, there are a phonology and a lexicology (Gaviria and Azcárate, 1979), a morphological study (Robayo, 1981), a general study of Letuama syntax (Strom, 1992), various works about the grammar and lexicon (Eraso, 1995; 1999; 2005; 2013; 2015), several educational publications to teach writing (SIL 1987; letuama et al 1993; Eraso et al., 1996; Fontaine, 2015), and a working paper made during a workshop of unification of the Tanimuca-Letuama alphabet (Puerto Guayabo, 2000).

Few works had also been done on the Tanimuca and Letuama ethnography. Nevertheless, we know that they live by hunting, fishing, horticulture and gathering (Von Hildebrand, 1979; 1987a), like other Tukanoan groups, and as the Yucuna-speaking Indians, with whom they share many cultural traits and have close affinal exogamous relationships (especially with Kamejeya and Jupichiya; Jacopin, 1972: 109-110). The Tanimuca and Letuama don’t practice all exogamy; they are also known for their endogamy (Von Hildebrand, 1987b).


2000      “Reseña bibliográfica del Tanimuca”, In María Stella González de Pérez, María Luisa Rodríguez de Montes (eds.), Lenguas indígenas de Colombia: Una visión descriptiva. Instituto Caro y Cuervo. Bogotá.

ERASO Natalia
1995       La palabra verbal en la lengua tanimuca, Thèse - magister, CCELA, Université de los Andes, Bogotá.
1999      “Cambios tonales en la palabra verbal”, in Congreso de lingüistica amerindia y criolla, 6/1, Landaburu, J. & Rojas Curieux, T. (eds), Universidad de los Andes-CCELA, Lenguas aborígenes de Colombia. Memorias, Editorial Artes Ltda. Bogota, pp. 72-95.
2005      “Expresión de nociones espaciales de localización en tanimuka (lengua de la Amazonía colombiana)”, in Expresión de nociones espaciales en lenguas amazónicas , Ospina Bozzi, A. (ed), Instituto Caro y Cuervo. Bogotá, Instituto Caro y Cuervo, Universidad Nacional de Colombia.
2015       Gramática tanimuka, una lengua de la Amazonía colombiana, Thesis, Université Lumière Lyon 2, Lyon. (limited access).

1996      “Yaimãjá ñẽ́’kí mãkarã́. CCELA, Universidad de los Andes. Bogotá. 31 p.

2015       “Introduction à la langue et à l'écriture des Indiens tanimuca et letuama”, Collection Pangloss du Lacito. (online).

JACOPIN Pierre-Yves
1979       "Habitat et territoire yukuna", Journal de la Société des Américanistes, Vol. 61, p. 107-139. (online)

GAVIRIA Sofía Victoria, AZCÁRATE Luis José
1979      Fonología y lexicología de la lengua tanimuca. Universidad de los Andes, Facultad de Artes y Ciencias, Departamento de Antropología, Bogotá, 290 p.

KEY Mary Ritchie
1979      The grouping of South American Indian languages. Ars linguistica commentationes analyticae criticae 2: 120. Gunter Narr Verlag, Tubingen.

LETUAMA Miguel Antonio et al.
1993      Ñamamamajaroka. El cuento del venado en wejeñememajã oka. Summer Institute of Linguistics, 54 p. (online).

2000      III Taller de unificación del Alfabeto Tanimuca Letuama. 20-27 julio del 2000. Maloca de Puerto Guayabo. Resguardo Indígena del Mirití-Paraná Amazonas, COAMA, Bogotá.

ROBAYO Camilo A.
1981      Elementos de morfología de la lengua tanimuka. Lecturas en teoría y práctica en etnolingüística 1. Universidad de Los Andes. Bogotá.

RUHLEN Merritt
1987      A guide to the world’s languages 1. Stanford University Press. Stanford.

1987      Leamos en tanimuka y retuarã. Summer Institute of Linguistics, Editorial Townsend, Lomalinda. 11 p.

1992      Retuarã Syntax: Studies in the Languages of Colombia 3. Summer Institute of Linguistics and the University of Texas at Arlington Publications in Linguistics 112. Summer Institute of Linguistics and the University of Texas at Arlington. Dallas, 227 p.

1979      Cosmologie et Mythologie Tanimuka (Ufaina). Université Paris VII. Thèse de 3ème cycle. Paris.
1987a      Datos ethnograficos sobre la astronomía de los indígenas Tanimuka del Noroeste Amazonico. In: Etnoastronomías Americanas, Arias de Greiff, Reichel E. (eds), Ediciones de la Universidad Nacional, pp. 233-253.
1987b      Modelos indígenas de la relación hombre-medio ambiente. In: Fundación Puerto Rastrojo, Annexo III. Bogotá.



Young girls tanimuca, La Pedrera, 2013/10/08