Do you recall the story, from decades ago, of New Guinea cannibal tribesmen devouring an heir to one of the greatest American fortunes in the country’s history? In revenge for something the scion (who happened to be a former United States Army soldier) had absolutely nothing to do with?
The Rockefeller family does. Because it was their relative, Michael — the fifth son of New York Governor and U.S. Vice President Nelson Rockefeller — who was the young inheritor eaten. He was of their own flesh and blood and allegedly wound up, after being cooked, in the bellies of the Asmat tribe who resided on the large island in the South West Pacific region, due north of Australia.
The date was November, 17 1961. Michael C. Rockefeller (pictured above), then 23, was on an expedition with a Dutch anthropologist named René Wassing in a double pontoon boat when it marooned. While waiting for help, the two drifted miles from shore for two days before Michael made a decision that would ultimately bring about his grisly end: he was going to swim to land, which according to accounts was approximately 12 miles away. According to his partner, he strapped empty gasoline cans to his military-style belt and swam away, in what he thought would be a ten-hour bobbing, buoyant trek.
While Wassing was rescued the very next day, Rockefeller’s body was never found. He was legally pronounced dead three years later, in 1964.
Aside from the flashy, juicy (no pun intended) cannibal theory, others exist as well. Some say the young moneyed man drowned. Others say he was slaughtered by gators.
But, according to the journalist Carl Hoffman, the most gruesome of the theories was true. Rockefeller was digested … by human beings.
He breaks down the account after meeting with tribesmen themselves, and documents his newfound evidence in a book published in 2014 titled Savage Harvest.
The Daily Mail breaks it down pretty well in their quasi-review of the book soon after it had been released.
Read this snippet of the writeup at your own peril:
After the long swim, Rockefeller saw the shoreline.
He had almost reached safety – but for the flotilla of canoes that were nestled in the trees – and the native men.
There were 50 of them waiting in eight 40’ long canoes at this early 6am hour when the sun had just started to rise.
They reached for their spears thinking it was a crocodile but when Michael rolled over onto his stomach, they saw it was a man — and they recognized him from having been in the village.
His name was Mike.
These natives were muscular and strong, black-skinned with pierced septums the size of dimes.
They wasted no time and paddled quickly out to the swimming man, surrounding him and towing him into shore.
Ajim, the head of one of the five men’s houses that comprised the Asmat village of Otsjanep, turned to Pep, who had killed more people than any of the tribesmen and collected more heads.
He was fearless and Ajim encouraged Pip to act.
‘He howled and arched his back and drove his spear into the white man’s floating ribs. Michael screamed, groaned a deep, inhuman sound,’ writes the author, and they pulled Michael into a canoe.
‘They had done this dozens of times following sacred rules that defined their lives and spirituality, made them men.
‘They were about to take his power, become him, and restore balance to the world.’
The fifty men in canoes rowed south on the Ewta River and turned into the shoreline that was soft mud where they dragged Michael out of the canoe and slapped him on his skull.
‘This is my head!’ screamed one of the tribe.
‘Fin and Pep and Ajim held his chest off the ground and pushed his head forward and with one blow of an ax in the back of his neck, Michael Rockefeller was dead.
From there, Hoffman details the feast.
‘Ajim turned him over and thrust into his throat with a bamboo knife, then pressed the head back until the vertebrae cracked.’
Rockefeller was now sacred meat.
A deep cut was made from the anus to the neck, down the side of Michael’s trunk to the armpit, across the collarbone to the throat and down the other side.
It was the ancestral ritual on how to butcher a man. But this was a white man so this ritual was performed in secret.
His ribs were broken with an ax, his sternum ripped out, his arms and legs cut off and his entrails pulled out – all the while the men were chanting.
‘It was sacred violence,’ said the author.
Michael’s head was scalped, cooked and cut across the face from the root of the nose to the nape of the neck. A small hole two inches in diameter was cut in his scull.
‘They shook the brains out onto the leaf of a palm, scraped inside the skull with a knife to get every last bite, then mixed the mass with sago, wrapped the leaf up, and roasted it on the fire. This food was special.’
He then goes into the Asmat’s reasoning for holding such a traditional killing. He says, quite simply, it was vengeance — for the murder of five of their men at the hands of another man with pale white skin, just like Rockefeller: Max Lapre, a Dutch overseer of the colony.
But why was Michael there in the first place?
He was there to collect artifacts for a museum his father founded in Manhattan in 1957, the Museum of Primitive Art. The things he bagged are still on display today, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.