Guido Boggiani

Patrick has developed an imaginary friend. Her name is Boggiani and she is a prankster. One of her favorite things to do is call us on a pretend phone. Patrick gets very excited when she calls, enthusiastically announcing, “Boggiani is on the phone!” When Brian or I reach for the “phone,” Patrick says, “Beep beep beep!” And in a disappointed tone he laments, “She hung up!” This game does not get old, for Patrick anyway. Sometimes when she calls, Patrick has lots to tell her about things he did that day, what he wants to eat, what happened at school, who his friends are, what Danny did. It’s very funny. He always ends his conversations with her by saying, “Ciao, ciao.” (Although those are Italian words, they are commonly used to say goodbye here in Paraguay where it is spelled, “Chau, chau”). Much like Patrick, Boggiani sometimes needs reminders about or help with the potty. Yesterday, Patrick insisted that I help her go potty on the toilet!

You might be wondering how Patrick – an Irish-American kid living in a Spanish-speaking country – came to have an imaginary friend with the Italian name “Boggiani.” Avenida Guido Boggiani is the name of a major street here in Asunción. Patrick heard the name and it stuck in his memory. Within days of our arrival in Asunción, our new friend Boggiani appeared.

So who was the real Guido Boggiani, you ask? He was an Italian painter, drawer, photographer and researcher of Paraguayan indigenous people.

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He was born in 1861 in Piedmont, Italy. After studying painting in Milan, and displaying and selling his works in Rome and Venice, Boggiani, in 1887 at the age of 26, traveled to Argentina to display his work. While there, he met several other Italians who had spent time in Paraguay. Boggiani was particularly interested in what he heard about the Chaco region of northern Paraguay and the Paraguayan indigenous peoples.

The following year, Boggiani went to Asunción, Paraguay where he remained for five years and made his first expedition to the Chaco, his first contact with the Chamacoco Indians and gathered a collection of anthropological artifacts. From 1893 until 1896, Boggiani remained in Italy writing books about his experiences in Paraguay.

In 1896, armed with a camera, tripod and equipment for development with glass plates, Boggiani returned to Paraguay to study the indigenous peoples and document their lives with photography. Here are some of the pictures he took:

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From 1896 to 1901, Boggiani took over 500 pictures, some of which were later acquired by the Ethnological Museum of Berlin. In October of 1901, Boggiani left Asunción for an expedition to the Chaco. The following October, he wrote a letter for the last time to his brother (giving details of the expedition) and Boggiani was never heard from or seen alive again.

In 1904, Italians in Asunción undertook an expedition to the Chaco to look for him. On October 20, 1904, they discovered his body with his head crushed. It is thought that the Chamococo Indians split Boggiani’s skull open in retaliation for his camera and photographs which the Indians believed were stealing their souls.

I hope that Patrick’s new friend Boggiani has better luck here in Paraguay than her name sake!

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