National Anthropological Archives

Guide to the Buell Halvor Quain papers, 1935-1955

Collection ID:
Quain, Buell H. (Buell Halvor), 1912-1939
bulk 1935-1939
. Some materials are in
Physical Description:
4.25 Linear feet
The papers of Buell H. Quain (1935-1955) document his field work amoung the Fijian people and the Trumai and Kraho of Brazil. The papers consist primarily of field notes in original notebooks and as organized by topic. There are also hand-drawn maps, letters of correspondence, reading notes, introductory essays to posthumously published work, and photographs.

Scope and Contents
Scope and Contents
The papers of Buell H. Quain document his research in Fiji and Brazil in the 1930s. The first series on Fiji contains an index file organized by informant and topic, his field notebooks, and reading notes. Amoung the Fijian people, Quian studied personal histories, kinship, social relationships, sexual activity, law, economics, and cooperative activies. He kept notes on daily activities, and collected folktales, songs, and linguistic notes.
The second series contains research materials from Brazil that were organized after his death. Included are a letter he wrote to missionaries near the Trumai, and typed field notes that have been organized by topic, such as: maps, folktales, kinships terms, daily activities, census, household observations, land and property, and house inventories. Duplicate copies of these notes are included in the papers. Also included are photocopies of the foreward and introduction to his posthumously published book, The Trumai Indians of Central Brazil. An indexed album of photos contains images from the upper Xingu river and the Trumai community, as well as photos from Quain's stay among the Kraho.
Please note that the contents of the collection and the language and terminology used reflect the context and culture of the time of its creation. As an historical document, its contents may be at odds with contemporary views and terminology and considered offensive today. The information within this collection does not reflect the views of the Smithsonian Institution or National Anthropological Archives, but is available in its original form to facilitate research.

This collection is arranged in two series: (1) Fiji, 1935-1936; (2) Brazil, 1938-1955.

Biographical Note
Biographical Note
Buell H. Quain was a promising young anthropologist in the 1930s who worked with the Indigenous peoples of Fiji and Brazil. Quain was born into a prominent family in Bismarck, North Dakota on May 31, 1912. He received his bachelor's degree in 1934 from the University of Wisconsin. Quain went on to study anthropology at Columbia University where he was mentored by Franz Boas and worked closely with other prominent anthropologists of the time, Ruth Benedict and Margaret Mead. He wrote the section on the Iroquois for Mead's book, Cooperation and Competition Among Primitive Peoples.
After completing his master's degree in 1935, Quain went to Fiji where he spent a year studying the culture, stories, and songs of the Fijian people. He completed his dissertation upon his return to the United States and received his PhD from Columbia University in 1936.
Quain received a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation in 1938 and went to Brazil to conduct a research project on the Trumai, an indigenous community from the upper Xingu River. After three months, Quain left the community for more supplies, but was then prohibited from returning to the Trumai by government agents. This caused Quain great frustration which he expressed in his correspondence. Ultimately, Quain shifted his research focus and went to work with the Ge speaking Kraho people in the state of Maranhao.
Quain died by suicide on August 2, 1939. In a letter dated August 12, 1939, Quain left instructions for his estate and burial in which he claimed to be dying of a contagious disease and asked that his death not be investigated. However, his two indigenous companions suggested that Quain had been in good health prior to his death but had been distressed by recent letters received from family. Communications from him had indicated his continued feeling of discouragement after being prohibited from returning to the Trumai, in addition to describing family troubles.
All of Quain's books were published posthumously. His original field notes were in various states of organization at the time of his death. His mother, Dr. Fannie Dunn Quain, arranged the notes and gave them to Columbia University so that they could be prepared for publication.
A fictional account of Quain's final days, called Nove Noites, was published by Brazilian author Bernardo Carvalho in 2002. The English translation, Nine Nights, was published in 2007.
Sources Consulted
Eriksmoen, Curt. "Promising Anthropologist from Bismarck Died Young." The Bismarck Tribune, April 3, 2011.
Thomas, Erika. "Buell Quian (1912-1939): an Ethnologist without a Grave," Human and Social Studies, vol. VII, no. 2 (2018): 69-77.
1912 May 12
Born in Bismarck, North Dakota
B.A. in Zoology, University of Wisconsin
Registered with Department of Anthropology at Columbia University
First trip to Fiji Islands
PhD, Columbia University
1938 February
Arrived in Brazil
1938 August to November
Lived with Trumai
1939 March to July
Lived with Kraho
1939 July 31
Left Kraho village with men nicknamed João and Ismael
1939 August 2
Died near Fazenda Serrinha, Brazil

Lisa Carney and Christy Fic
Immediate Source of Acquisition
There is currently no information available regarding the provenance of the Fiji Series of this collection. The Brazil series was received from the American Museum of Natural History in 2016.
Processing Information
The papers arrived at the National Anthropological Archives through two deposits. Christy Fic proccessed the Fiji series in 2012, and Lisa Carney processed the 2016 accretion of Brazil papers in 2022. The papers were received partially arranged. The processing archivists rehoused the collection in archival folders and manuscript boxes. For the most part, the original organization has been retained. Carbon copies of the Brazil papers that had been interspersed with the original documents were separated due to the brittle quality of their paper. Folder titles were assigned by the archvists, based on the titles of Quain's documents.
Processed by Christy Fic, October 2012 and Lisa Carney, June 2022.

Using the Collection
Conditions Governing Access
The Buell Halvor Quain papers are open for research.
Access to the Buell Halvor Quain papers requires an appointment.
Conditions Governing Use
Contact the repository for terms of use.

Related Materials
Buell Quain is listed as a correspondent in the Ruth Landes papers and William Duncan Strong papers at the NAA. The William Duncan Strong papers include Ruth Benedict's Quain correspondence. Quain's Trumai research is held at Museu Nacional (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil). The Margaret Mead Papers and South Pacific Ethnographic Archives at the Library of Congress contains correspondence related to Quain. The manuscripts and photo collection of Fannie Dunn Quian, Buell Quain's mother, are held at the North Dakota State Archives and contain at least one photo of Buell Quain.

More Information
Selected Bibliography
Selected Bibliography
1942. The Flight of the Chiefs: Epic Poetry of Fiji. New York: J.J. Augustin.
1948. With Ruth Benedict. Fijian Village. Chicago, Ill: Univ. of Chicago Pr.
1955. With Robert F. Murphy. The Trumai Indians of Central Brazil. New York: J.J. Augustin.

Keywords table of terms and types.
Keyword Terms Keyword Types
Fiji Geographic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Brazil Geographic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Mehim (Krahô/Crahao) Cultural Context Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Fijians Cultural Context Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Trumai Cultural Context Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid

Repository Contact
National Anthropological Archives
Museum Support Center
4210 Silver Hill Road
Suitland, Maryland 20746