Guahibo Indians, Province of Casanare


This watercolor by Manuel María Paz (1820–1902) depicts Guahibo Indians in Casanare Province (present-day Casanare Department), Colombia. The Guahibo were once present in large numbers in the eastern regions of Colombia known as Los Llanos (The Plains), of which Casanare is part. Although now much reduced in number, the Guahibo are still one of Colombia’s major indigenous ethnic groups. Paz was born in Almaguer in the province of Cauca. He joined the Colombian army at a young age and showed exceptional skills as a cartographer and painter. In 1853 he took over the role of draftsman of the Comisión Corográfica (Chorographic Commission) formerly held by Henry Price (1819–63). The commission, which began work in 1850, was tasked with studying the geography, cartography, natural resources, natural history, regional culture, and agriculture of the Republic of New Granada (present-day Colombia and Panama). Paz worked under the direction of Agustín Codazzi (1793–1859), an adventurous Italian geographer and engineer who had fought with Simón Bolívar. In 1853, when the Comisión Corográfica undertook its fourth mission, to the provinces of Chocó, Buenaventura, Barbacoas, Túquerres, Pasto, Popayá, and Cauca, Paz agreed to join the expedition on informal terms. Paz was later hired on a more permanent basis, and in fact stayed with the commission for much longer than his predecessors Price and Carmelo Fernández (1809–87). Codazzi’s correspondence in these years is filled with expressions of concern about finding a permanent draftsman for the commission who could endure the hardship of travel to the remote and uncharted regions of New Granada. In 1859, at Codazzi’s death, Paz was among the collaborators who took on the task of reviewing, completing, and publishing the work that the Comisión Corográfica had undertaken since 1850. As a draftsman, Paz executed watercolors and drawings that were very exact and strove to represent the places and people of Colombia in a naturalistic and objective style. These pictures constitute invaluable documentary records for the history and culture of Colombia. They also provided information pertinent to drawing up the maps that were one of the main objectives of the Comisión Corográfica. More than 90 paintings by Paz are preserved at the National Library of Colombia.

Last updated: November 16, 2016