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Catalog Data

Harrington, John Peabody 1884-1961  Search this
Nigdibippi, Chief Igwa  Search this
Densmore, Frances 1867-1957  Search this
Marsh, Richard O (Richard Oglesby) 1883-1953  Search this
Collins, Henry Bascom 1899-1987  Search this
Hough, Walter 1859-1935  Search this
Marsh-Darien Expedition, 1924  Search this
Physical description:
1 box
Cuna Indians  Search this
Field notes
1914, 1924-circa 1931
Microfilm and digital surrogates of microfilm are available. See Volume 7, reel 26. Only original documents created by Harrington, his coworkers and field assistants, or field notes given to him by others were microfilmed.
See Manuscript 4490 for the map of San Blas drawn by Igwa Nigdibippi for Harrington. The NAA also holds the papers of Richard Marsh.
From October through December of 1924, John P. Harrington worked with a party of Cuna--the "White Indians" as they were called by the press. The group was brought to the United States in July by an engineer, Richard O. Marsh, who earlier in 1924 had led the "Marsh Darien" expedition to eastern Panama, with representatives from the Smithsonian and other institutions. After a well-publicized short visit to New York City (during which Harrington probably reported on the Indians for a New Orleans newspaper) and longer stays in upstate New York and Canada, the party travelled in October to Washington, D.C. While in the capital, Marsh lobbied on behalf of the Cuna against the Panamanian government and the party was studied by various Smithsonian scientists--among them Frances Densmore, Herbert Krieger, and Ales Hrdlicka. Harrington and his colleague Paul Vogenitz of the Post Office Department undertook linguistic work with members of the group both at the Smithsonian and at the house where they were staying in nearby Chevy Chase, Maryland.
The party of eight Cuna consisted of three young albinos and five non-albino adults; two of the latter served as chaperones for the young people. The other three were delegates on a secret political mission to the United States. These individuals and their communities of origin are inconsistently identified in the documents. This is due to mistakes and simplifications by Harrington and others and because in this era, Cuna often had multiple and variously spelled names. The chaperones were a couple from the island of Nargana (also referred to as San Jose, Yantuppu and Rio Diablo in the notes): Jim, James, or Santiago Perry (also Berry, Beri, or Campos) and his wife Inez or Alice. The albinos were their adolescent daughter Margarita or Marguerite, and two unrelated boys who were sometimes passed off as their sons. The younger was called Tcippu (the Cuna word for "white," often given to albinos) from the island of Ustupu or Portogandi. The older boy was Olo Piniginya or Olo from Ailigandi.
The three political delegates were Igwa Nigdibippi, a subchief of the island of Ailigandi and personal emissary of the high chief Cimral Coleman; Alfred Robinson or Kantule, son of the high chief Nele Kantule of Portogandi; and Phillip (Phillip, Felipe) Thompson, also called Niga ("nephew") of Tikantikki or Niatupu. Alfred and Phillip spoke English and Spanish, and Phillip had attended primary school in Washington some years earlier.
Harrington and Vogenitz worked with Jim Perry and his daughter Margarita, Phillip Thompson (abbreviated "Ph." or "Fe!."), Alfred Robinson ("Alf."), and Igwa Nigdibippi ("Chief"). The group was first brought to the museum on October 18, 1924, and Harrington began recording information from them the next day. His field notes mention dates in October through December; during some of this period Vogenitz worked more intensively with the Indians while Harrington attended to other work at the Smithsonian. A vocabulary slip dated January 12 [1925] was probably written out after the fact. Frances Densmore began her musical studies with the Cuna on November 25th and worked intensively with them from November 30 to December 6.
The Cuna party left the United States at the beginning of January. Later in the month Marsh returned to San BIas, the coastal territory of the Cuna, and at the end of February helped to lead an uprising against the Panamanian government.
Electronic inventory available. Consult with archivist. For a comprehensive description of these materials, see "The papers of John Peabody Harrington in the Smithsonian Institution, 1907-1957, Volume 7: A guide to the field notes: Native American history, language, and culture of Mexico/Central America/South America," edited by Elaine L. Mills (1988).
This subseries of the Mexico/Central America/South America series contains Harrington's Cuna research, consisting of linguistic and ethnographic notes, reports and clippings, and miscellaneous notes.
There is a small section of "S[an] Blas" vocabulary which was recorded from Enrique Tule in Los Angeles in 1914. Most of his linguistic and ethnographic notes were obtained from the Cuna group that visited Washington, D.C., in 1924. He recorded vocabulary for animals, especially fishes; relationships; months; placenames; and tribenames. He also collected ethnographic information for cataloged artifacts from the Marsh Expedition, such as paddles, necklaces, and baskets. Some notes were elicited while examining the contents of a mannequin case in the U. S. National Museum. Interspersed with the linguistic and ethnographic data are information on members of the Cuna group, references to photographs, and quotes regarding the Marsh Expedition from one of its members, Major H. B. Johnson. Also filed here are a set of texts. Song texts, including the Canoe Song, Flower Song, and Headache Song, appear to have been written down from dictation or during a performance; there are virtually no translations. A few pages are in the hand of Paul Vogenitz. There is also a three-page typescript of Cuna text with a partial interlinear translation. It was dictated by Igwa Nigdibippi on December 9, 1924, as a discussion of the chief's activities in Washington, D.C., and was transcribed by Vogenitz on the following day. The second text, which takes the form of a letter addressed from "Pablo" [Paul] to "Kwan" Uohn], was prepared by Vogenitz as a writing exercise in the Cuna language. The subject is evolution, a topic of public interest at the time in light of the on-going trial of John Thomas Scopes. There are also typed data on note slips with handwritten annotations on plants and material culture. Original catalog numbers and Smithsonian catalog numbers are provided for some of the artifacts discussed. In addition, a few items collected by the Marsh Expedition are illustrated in sketches. There are also references to Dr. Walter Hough, Mr. Marsh, and Dr. Henry B. Collins. A second set of slips deals with terms for parts of the body and for various animal species. The slips were handwritten by both Harrington and Vogenitz. There are corresponding typed copies for many of the slips. Each entry consists of a single word and commentary on the phonetics.
This subseries also contains a series of reports on the Cuna Indians. Included are drafts of a paper titled "Ethnological and Linguistic Study of the Tule Indians of Panama" and a similar untitled typescript of two pages. This statement by Harrington includes discussion of estimated population, geographical area, tribal names and divisions, and language of the Cuna and lists the names of his informants. It also contains references to his study of Tule placenames of the coast and mountains and to the map drawn by Chief Igwa Nigdibippi (see MS 4490). The extensive "8000-word vocabulary" mentioned in the paper has not been located. There is also material relating to the reports Frances Densmore prepared regarding her study of the Cuna. Included are a typed copy of "Music and Customs of the Tule Indians of Panama" and handwritten and typed copies by Harrington of "Songs and Instrumental Music of the Tule Indians of Panama." These are followed by notes for an unfavorable review Harrington was writing of the papers by Densmore. Also filed here are newspaper clippings discussing Richard O. Marsh's explorations and Harrington's linguistic work with the Tule Indians.
Harrington retained a number of files of miscellany relating to his study of Cuna. Included are reading notes from Lionel Wafer's book, A New Voyage and Description of the Isthmus of America, concerning observations of the Tule in 1699. They contain a few annotations regarding vocabulary items and phrases. There are also notes on Baron Erland Nordenskiold, a Swedish anthropologist who traveled among the Cuna in 1927, and Karl Gustav Izikowitz, who worked with a Tule informant named Ruben Perez Kantule in Goteborg, Sweden, in 1931. These are accompanied by two lists of vocabulary which were evidently prepared by Vogenitz with the intention of demonstrating the affinity of Cuna with the Scandinavian and Germanic languages. This claim was based on mistranslations or comparisons of inappropriate forms of a given word. A few additional pages, labeled "Tule miscellaneous," include a note from H. B. Johnson to Harrington. There are also random notes on bibliography and the names of contact persons.
Cite as:
Mexico/Central America/South America: Cuna, John Peabody Harrington papers, National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution
Repository Loc.:
National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Museum Support Center, Suitland, Maryland
Cuna language  Search this
Language and languages--Documentation  Search this
Linguistics  Search this
Ethnology  Search this
Ethnobotany  Search this
Ethnomusicology  Search this
Names, Geographical  Search this
Names, Ethnological  Search this
Zoology  Search this
Local number:
Accession #1976-95
Restrictions & Rights:
No restrictions on access
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John Peabody Harrington papers: Mexico/Central America/South America, circa 1907-1960
Data Source:
National Anthropological Archives