Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Savage Harvest: A Tale of Cannibals, Colonialism, and Michael Rockefeller's Tragic Quest for Primitive Art

When this book popped up in my Nook special offers email one day, the topic caught me so off-guard I could not resist clicking the "Buy Now" button. Having been born in the later half of the 1960's, I had not heard of Michael Rockefeller's disappearance/death and I suppose I am just naive enough (and perhaps unwilling) to acknowledge that cannibalism as cultural norm existed beyond the 1800's (and perhaps continues to this day).

Hoffman's book does a wonderful job of laying out both the details of Rockefeller's last days as well as the geo-political situation which surely played a part in what happened to one of the heirs of America's most wealthy families. Hoffmann has done his research. The book includes extensive notes on source material used to make the case that Michael fell into the hands of a group of Asmat men who killed and ate him to reset the balance of their world following the massacre of several tribal leaders by the Dutch government which hand colonized the area.

This is not a book for the squeamish. Hoffman lays out in graphic detail the ritual the Asmat followed in their headhunting and cannibalizing of victims per their culture. It's also very frustrating to see how the political dynamics and the Catholic church's panache for hiding the truth played into this tragedy.

If you are interested in the dynamics of mid-century Papua New Guinea, curious about headhunting cannibals, or wonder what happened to Michael Rockefeller, you will want to read Savage Harvest. Then you can decide if you want to see the artifacts that Rockefeller gave his life for which are on display in New York City.

From the Publisher . . .
The mysterious disappearance of Michael Rockefeller in New Guinea in 1961 has kept the world and his powerful, influential family guessing for years. Now, Carl Hoffman uncovers startling new evidence that finally tells the full, astonishing story.

Despite exhaustive searches, no trace of Rockefeller was ever found. Soon after his disappearance, rumors surfaced that he'd been killed and ceremonially eaten by the local Asmat—a native tribe of warriors whose complex culture was built around sacred, reciprocal violence, head hunting, and ritual cannibalism. The Dutch government and the Rockefeller family denied the story, and Michael's death was officially ruled a drowning. Yet doubts lingered. Sensational rumors and stories circulated, fueling speculation and intrigue for decades. The real story has long waited to be told—until now.

Retracing Rockefeller's steps, award-winning journalist Carl Hoffman traveled to the jungles of New Guinea, immersing himself in a world of headhunters and cannibals, secret spirits and customs, and getting to know generations of Asmat. Through exhaustive archival research, he uncovered never-before-seen original documents and located witnesses willing to speak publically after fifty years.

In Savage Harvest he finally solves this decades-old mystery and illuminates a culture transformed by years of colonial rule, whose people continue to be shaped by ancient customs and lore. Combining history, art, colonialism, adventure, and ethnography, Savage Harvest is a mesmerizing whodunit, and a fascinating portrait of the clash between two civilizations that resulted in the death of one of America's richest and most powerful scions.

About the Author . . .

Carl Hoffman is a contributing editor at National Geographic Traveler and the author of Savage Harvest: A Tale of Cannibals, Colonialism and Michael Rockefeller's Tragic Quest for Primitive Art, his third book. His second, The Lunatic Express: Discovering the World Via Its Most Dangerous Buses, Boats, Trains and Planes, was named one of the ten best books of 2010 by the Wall Street Journal and was a New York Times summer reading pick. He has won four Lowell Thomas Awards from the Society of American Travel Writers Foundation and one North American Travel Journalism Award. A veteran journalist and former contributing editor for Wired, he has traveled to more than 70 countries on assignment for Outside, Smithsonian, National Geographic Adventure, ESPN, the Magazine, Wired, Men's Journal, Popular Mechanics and many other publications. He is a native of Washington, D. C. and the father of three children.

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