Did Ajim Suck Out Michael Rockefeller's Brains?
This is the essential question at the heart of Carl Hoffman's book Savage Harvest: A Tale of Cannibals, Colonialism, and Michael Rockefeller's Tragic Quest for Primitive Art . . . and unlike Serial, this journalistic journey down the rabbit-hole of time delivers a fairly definitive answer to the mystery of what happened to Michael Rockefeller in 1961-- although you're going to have to wait until the last page of the book to get it-- but along the way Hoffman raises plenty of other issues about colonialism and otherness, cultural relativism and morality, the motivations and rituals of subsistence cultures, revenge and balance, the value and acquisition of primitive art, and what connects and separates human culture (think headhunting, chairs and sewage) and while much of this might be anthropological abstraction or a maze of historical detail (I still can't figure out exactly what went down between the Asmat villages of Otsjanep and Omadesep) the narrative is held together by the lurking shadow in the New Guinea swamp, the ultimate taboo: cannibalism . . . and this pervades the story and the Asmat culture-- these are people without access to protein, warriors who believe in a spirit world as much as in the dense, green and watery reality of their actual home, and they are complex people, who have had to deal with an upheaval to their culture, in the form of mysterious white men-- who are generally all-powerful, possessing guns and flying vehicles, white men who made them feel guilt and regret for their sacred rituals-- and while they now profess that they are reformed of their headhunting habits, there are still those living in the villages, elders, who have tasted human flesh, and fifty years ago, when they had the chance to strike at a weak and vulnerable white-man-- not long after they suffered a massacre at the hands of a Dutch colonial-- then the case that Hoffman presents makes perfect sense.