The Tacana culture in the Bolivian Amazon dates back to pre-Incan times, where they lived as a nomadic tribe, hunting their forests and living day to day from the wealth and bounty of their territories. They spoke their native tongue, Tacana, and lived in relative peace.
During the age of the Incan Empire, the Tacana acted as a trade partner between the Andean cities and the Amazonian villages. The Tacana would trade furs and feathers of exotic animals, fruits, natural medicines, and natural resources. Some historians state that warfare did break out between the Incan Empire and Amazon tribes. Yet the jungle terrain protected the Tacana and other Amazonian tribes against the more powerful armies of the Inca, and three attempts to conquer the Amazonian tribes were not successful.
During colonial times in Latin America, the Spanish sent over twenty expeditions down to the Tacana’s jungles to look for the famous city of gold, El Dorado. The first registered written document mentioning the Tacana came from the trip logs of one of these expeditions in 1539, where they encountered Tacana villages along the Beni and Tuichi rivers. The Tacana decided on a strategy of non-violence with the Spanish, allowing them to live in relative peace on the lands they valued so highly. The Tacana’s main trade with the Spanish colonial state was wild chocolate. This trade allowed the Tacana to maintain basic control of their lands.
After many years of Spanish rule, the Tacana and the rest of Bolivia won their independence in 1825. The Tacana culture continued to trade with the larger cities of the Andes until in the late 1800’s when the rubber rush came to Bolivia. The growing world demand for rubber influenced the Bolivian government’s decision to make 35 land concessions totaling 600,000 hectares to be converted into rubber farms, much of which was in Tacana land. The high demand for labor forced many Tacana and other Amazonian indigenous groups to work in what was basically slave labor. The horrible working conditions nearly wiped out many local populations during this time.
The 20th century saw the Tacana people endure many other hardships as special interest groups in the foresting and other natural resources industries brushed them aside. The Tacana formed the Council for Indigenous Tacana Villages (CIPTA) in the 1990s and have slowly gained a voice in the political landscape of Bolivia, and they also were granted a large territory by the Bolivian government. The Tacana continue to find ways to adapt to the ever-changing world around them.