Was Michael Rockefeller Eaten By Cannibals?

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Michael Rockefellerpeabody

Fed up from the perks of modern life, Michael sought solace in the unconventional lifestyle of the untamed. However, his passion brought about his mysterious downfall.

Despite numerous theories, the question remains: What happened to Michael Rockefeller? Was he eaten by the cannibals whose ways he worshipped? Did he fake his death to join the secluded Asmat tribe? Is Michael still alive?

Who was Michael Rockefeller?

A 23-year-old man named Michael Rockefeller belonged to one of the wealthiest and most influential families in America. He was the son of a businessman and politician.

His father was the 41st Vice President of the United States and Governor of New York. At the time of Michael’s death in 1961, Nelson Rockefeller (R-New York) was the Governor of New York.

Michael’s Passion for the Unknown

The Museum of Primitive Art, earlier established by Michael’s father, deeply interested him. This interest turned into a passion as he set out on expeditions to learn about other cultures and dived into exploring the unknown.

His domain of interest was the art of indigenous tribes. Despite having studied economics and history from Harvard University, he wanted to venture on expeditions. Little did he know that his passion would become the cause of his death.

The Unconventional Cannibalism of the Asmat Tribe

On one of his expeditions, he found the Asmat tribe in the Papua province of Indonesia and aimed to bring their cultural artifacts back to New York. He was fascinated by the ways of the tribe and their imposed seclusion from the rest of the world.

Growing up in modern civilization and being a close observer to the lifestyle of the rich wealthy man, this untamed setting was an unusual sight. This exotic element of the unknown intrigued him. The tribe believed that there was no physical entity that existed beyond their territory.

They thought that the world was limited to their tribe and formed their morality. One of the odd practices that they conducted was headhunting or more commonly known as cannibalism.

They devoured every part of the dead body, from the bones that were used to make weapons to the meat for nourishment. They were alien to the concepts of modern civilization. Therefore, they thought that anything unknown entity that appeared in front of them was a spirit.

Thus, the white man entering their territory was a spirit. Therefore, they rationalized that they had to defend themselves from these entities, especially three years before the incident.

The Intervention of White Spirits

At the time of Rockefeller’s disappearance, the land he went missing was where two tribes were fought each other.

The incident occurred in 1958, where the Dutch murdered Asmat leaders in an attempt to retain their control in the region. They executed a military intervention that could not communicate with the tribes. The Asmat tribe, who had previously never seen a white man, stood opposite military weapons and armed men aiming at them.

They perceived them as a threat, and as a result, some of the Asmat leaders lost their lives in combat. This incident had the tribe seeking an opportunity for revenge.

The Last lines of Michael Rockefeller

Rockefeller returned to New Guinea to the Asmat tribe after his first trip. This time, he was successful in acquiring some of the tribe’s artifacts.

However, on his way back with anthropologist Rene and two Asmat teenagers, the boat on the Betsj river overturned. The Asmat boys swam to seek assistance while the other two clung to the boat the entire night. Finally, Michael said to Rene, the last words before he swam 10 miles to the shore to find help were:

“I think I can make it,” (Michael Rockefeller)

Even amid hopelessness, Michael believed that he saw a glimmer of light left. Dutch authorities rescued Rene, but Michael Rockefeller was nowhere to be found on 19th November 1961.

The Missing Swimmer

Michael’s family appointed an extensive search for him in the nearby forests. People were sent to search for him but found no traces or remains of Michael.

His family even offered a 250,000 dollar prize for the person who found Michael Rockefeller. His disappearance sparked controversy since the son of an influential man was nowhere to be found, and the family wouldn’t settle for reasoning without evidence.

At the same time, the family was very secretive in their investigation; however, they asked the public to help find their son. The contradiction between their actions is one of the reasons this appeared to be suspicious and even suggested political motives to conceal information. From 1961 until now, the following theories have come to light in terms of his disappearance:

The First Fate

It would be a simple but convincing explanation that he died drowning in his attempt to swim to the shore. The likelihood of his ability to swim 10 miles seems far-fetched.

However, no remains were found nearby or the equipment he was last seen with. The reality is distressing to know that the man who thought he would live never made it to safety.

The Second Fate

Another possibility suggests a torturous death for Rockefeller. The author of Savage Harvest, Coff Hoffman, conducted a verification search of events that were concluded about Michael’s death. In his book, he suggested a shocking turn of events.

Since the Asmat tribe were cannibals, he suggested that they consumed Michael when he turned up the shore. He later found a private investigator hired by the Rockefeller family and was given the exact amount promised to the person who found their son.

The investigator visited the tribe and found a skull that a couple of people claimed was Michael’s. The family supposedly accepted these skulls as proof of Michael’s death by the investigator, and the rest was covered up partly by the Dutch government and partly by the family.

The Third Fate

Fraser Heston, while directing his documentary following the events of Michael’s disappearance, concluded that there is a possibility that Michael left the conventional lifestyle of the white man and started to adopt the ways of the tribes as he saw a picture where a white man was performing a ritual with the indigenous tribe. However, Heston believed that Michael is still alive and lives with the lifestyle that resonated with him.

The Controversy

The speculations about either claim arose when it was found that the Dutch had motives to keep the information regarding Michael classified and was later verified by the Asmat tribe when the incident was common knowledge to the people. The investigator heard a tribesman telling the story about a white spirit saying,

“Don’t tell the white men about who we killed” (Asmat Tribe Native)

This remained unsolved with three possible theories that amplified this incident’s mass attention and intrigued a person with mystery. The idea that untimely death can occur through age-old practices like cannibalism unsettles one because the people who supposedly consumed Michael would be the same people who greeted him on his first visit. To be viewed as a material to be consumed is what unsettles one when we learn about indigenous tribes like the Asmat tribe.

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