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THE CALL OF THE CURASSOW AND THE LAND OF THE GUAHIBO INDIANS
Author: Felix V. DiGiovanni
Cameraman: Paul Beer
Genre: Creative non-fiction (272 pages with 117 pictures)

Registry #: cnf001

 

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 River border.

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 one."

"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 pantry."

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 place.

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.

 

 

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