National Anthropological Archives

Guide to the Felix DiGiovanni and Paul Beer photographs of the Guahibo and other indigenous tribes of eastern Colombia

Collection ID:
Beer, Paul
DiGiovanni, Felix V.
Bellis, Tom
Circa 1938
Multiple languages
Physical Description:
102 Photographic prints
Black and white, silver gelatin
Photographs made by Paul Beer and Felix DiGiovanni depicting indigenous people, primarily the Guahibo, as well as the natural and cultural features of the Vaupés region of Eastern Colombia.

Scope and Contents
Scope and Contents
The collection consists of 85 photographic prints mounted on paperboard, with annotations made by Genevieve Bellis, wife of Tom Bellis. Also included are 18 enlargements mounted on black paper with annotations (not Bellis') in Spanish, and a number written on the back. With one exception (Item 29), the enlargements are of the photographs mounted on paperboard.
The photographs depict the indigenous people of eastern Colombia, primarily the Guahibo tribe, as well as the natural and cultural features of the Vichada region. Other tribes represented in the photographs include the Piapoco, Guanano, Banibo, Casanare, Guayabero, and Tucano tribes. The location depicted in the images is in the Vichada region, unless otherwise indicated.
The photographs show the customs and daily activities of the tribes, including bathing, washing clothes, cooking, fishing, hunting, making arrows and dugout canoes, house-building, creating water pitchers from clay, weaving cloth from the bark of trees, and preparing for ceremonies.

Biographical / Historical
Biographical / Historical
Felix V. DiGiovanni (ca. 1913-1990) was an American engineer, writer, photographer, and filmmaker. He was raised in the Bronx and graduated with an engineering degree from The City College of New York in 1933. As a young man, he traveled throughout Colombia, Venezuela, and Brazil, and later became interested in documenting the eastern plains of Colombia, known as Los Llanos, as well as its inhabitants. In the late 1930s, he returned to Colombia to film a documentary on the indigenous people of the Vaupés region.
DiGiovanni's partner in the expedition was Paul Beer. Beer (1904-1979) was a German photographer active in Bogota, Colombia, in the late 1920s.
By 1941, DiGiovanni's documentary film about the Guahibo was completed. In 1944 he returned to Colombia to work with the U.S. Cinchona Mission, which comprised a team of scientists travelling to the Andes region to find cinchona trees, whose bark produces the alkaloid quinine, used for treating malaria.
DiGiovanni met Tom Bellis during this time. Bellis (1907-1993) was an officer with the Food and Drug Administration. From October 1942 until December 1945, he worked for the Board of Economic Warfare in Bogota, Colombia at the Instituto Nacional de Higiene Samper-Martinez. Here, he directed a laboratory which analyzed cinchona bark. In November 1945, Bellis purchased this set of photographs, along with 28 Guahibo artifacts, from DiGiovanni.
Felix DiGiovanni returned to New York in 1946 and became a mechanical engineer with a major oil company. In 1960, he completed a draft of a manuscript about his experiences with the Guahibo, titled The Call of the Curassow and the Land of the Guahibo Indians. He intended to publish it and also produce a Spanish translation, but he died December 31, 1990, before it could be finished. In 1994, Pauline DiGiovanni, DiGiovanni's widow, published 40 copies of the manuscript in English.
After the expedition with DiGiovanni, Paul Beer's photography focused primarily on architectural and industrial themes. He lived in Bogota until his death in 1979.

Victoria Dale
Processing Information
The pages of paperboard on which the photos are mounted were numbered prior to deposit at the National Anthropological Archives (NAA). Page numbers begin at 17, so may have been part of a larger set. The archivist assigned item numbers to the mounted photographs based on their placement on the page. (17a, 17b, etc.) The numbers in parentheses in the item description were assigned to the photographs by the donor Genevieve Bellis. Their significance is unclear.
The archivist also added captions taken from the photographs in DiGiovanni's book where it was believed that the book added clarifying information. Where applicable, the captions are in quotes below the item description.
Collection and image descriptions provided in this finding aid were compiled using the best available sources of information. Such sources may include the creator's annotations or descriptions, collection accession files, primary and secondary source material (i.e. documents, publications, and websites), and subject matter experts. While every effort is made to provide accurate information, it is understood that errors may reveal themselves following review by other subject experts, and new information is welcome.
Processed and encoded by Victoria Dale.
Immediate Source of Acquisition
The photographs were donated by Genevieve Bellis, widow of Tom Bellis, in 1995.
Separated Materials
Along with the photographs, Genevieve Bellis donated 28 objects from the Guahibo tribe, which are held in the National Museum of Natural History's anthropology collections. These form accession number 400216, and include wooden bows, a woven hammock, arrows, a water jug, ceremonial necklaces, a gourd rattle, a reed tube rattle, a small gourd containing curare, incised spindle whorls, and bead necklaces.

Using the Collection
Conditions Governing Use
Contact the repository for terms of use.
Conditions Governing Access
There are no restrictions on this collection.
Preferred Citation
Photo lot 1995-41, National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution

Related Materials
The National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) holds the Felix V. DiGiovanni collection from Colombia, collection ID number NMAI.AC.300, donated by DiGiovanni's widow, Pauline DiGiovanni. It contains prints and negatives different from the NAA's collection, a 16mm film, and the book The Call of the Curassow and the Land of the Guahibo Indians. NMAI also has objects collected by DiGiovanni, including baskets, tools, necklaces, woven bags, hammocks, arrows, and pottery.

More Information
DiGiovanni, Felix V. The Call of the Curassow and the Land of the Guahibo Indians. Limited Special Edition. Jamaica, New York: Paula Di Educational Enterprises, Inc., 1994.

Keywords table of terms and types.
Keyword Terms Keyword Types
Guahibo Cultural Context Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Vaupés (Colombia) Geographic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Piapoco (Piapoko) Cultural Context Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Ethnology Topical Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Colombia Geographic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Orinoco River Geographic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Guanano Indians Topical Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Baniwa Indians Topical Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Tucano Indians Topical Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Guayabero Indians Topical Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid

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