Felix DiGiovanni says
here was Colombia's beautiful blue Vichada River and the haunting
call of the black curassow bird breaking the stillness of
the night. "The mystery, the dangers, the excitement,
the irresistible attractions of this vast country, had bewitched
me. The vast tropical Llanos had captured my soul, the seductive,
solitary, peaceful, wild, unpredictable, mysterious Llanos."
The Llanos are the Eastern Plains of Colombia. And here is
the first detailed knowledge of a then (1940's) little-known
tribe, the Guahibos, 10,000 living on the Orinoco-Vichada
region of the Los Llanos, 5000 on Venezuela-Colombia Orinoco
This anthropological-ethnological gem tells of a prolonged
study of the more primitive and interesting Cuibas, the nomadic
clans of the tribe, and adventures undertaken to complete
that study. Traveling from Bogota, over treacherous Andes
trails, to the wild frontiers, is a story in itself. The mode
of travel becomes more primitive as the party nears the frontier.
"Finally our established means of transportation ended.
We either walked or used dugouts when they were available.
At times, two or three days were wasted trying to acquire
"Paul and I learned much about survival in a primitive
society. With ax and machete nothing else is needed to exist.
Mother Nature supplied the basic things needed. From palm
trees they made shelters, carrying baskets, hammocks, some
of their food. They relied completely on Mother Nature. They
had no fixed abode. The whole region was their home and their
The project did have its problems. The nomads feared white
men and did not trust them; they were suspicious, superstitious,
and wary. They could be dangerous if one did not know how
to gain their confidence. A morass of red tape from greed
or ambition of a rookie policeman caused other problems. "We
lost much time, suffered extra expense, humiliation and distress,
almost losing our canoes in the middle of the wilderness.
How we were able to retrieve our boat and get out of our bad
situation is short of a miracle."
Felix DiGiovanni's family donated much to the National Museum
of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution: his collection
of artifacts, over 200 exquisite photographs, (featured at
the National Museum of Natural History in 1947); and Guahibo
vocabulary and phrases and incantations (they have no written
language). Plus letters and other archival material, as well
as a documentary film (now turned into a 75-minute videocassette
with narrative and background music). Most of the letters,
in Spanish, are from an old rancher and frontiersman and dear
friend, through which DiGiovanni updated his story up to the
end of 1990. It is a history of the region as it was taking
The curator of NY's Anthropology Department of American Museum
of Natural History wrote: "It is a major piece of work
on the Guahibos; perhaps most important anthropological document
about them in existence. I hope there is intent to publish
this book commercially. It certainly merits a wider audience."
The latter was a reference to a private printing of forty
books by DiGiovanni's widow Pauline after his death.