Feb 24, 2014

The Gay Anthropologist and the Cannibals

Michael Rockefeller, the "secretly" gay son of New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller, heir to one of the wealthiest families in the world, graduated from Harvard in 1960.  He was interested in anthropology, especially "primitive art," he embarked on an expedition to to New Guinea.

He fell in love with the Asmat men, with their muscular bodies and laissez-faire attitude toward sexual identity, and returned over and over again.

On November 17th, 1961, his boat overturned about 12 miles from shore, and he decided to swim for it.  He was never seen again.  Extensive searches of the area -- the Rockefellers could afford very extensive searches -- revealed no clue to his fate.

Sounds like a tragic but easily explainable event: Rockefeller drowned, or was eaten by a shark, during the 12-mile swim.  

But paranormal authors latched onto the story.  He was abducted by aliens, or swam through a time vortex, or was living as the god-king of a lost tribe, or was living incognito in Hollywood.  The fact that Rockefeller was "secretly gay" increased the aura of scandal.

A more plausible theory has him reaching the shore, where he was killed and eaten by the Asmat.  They weren't usually cannibals, but the play The Man Who Ate Michael Rockefeller (2010) suggests that Michael (Aaron Strand, top photo) represented a sexual threat.  

His barely-contained homoerotic interest in Designing Man (Daniel Morgan Shelley, left) threatens his lover, Plentiful Bliss (Tracey Jack), who happens to be his best friend's wife.  So Michael must die.

The book Savage Harvest, by anthropologist Carl Hoffman (2014), documents the murder theory with eyewitness testimonies from villagers.  But he minimizes the sexual-threat angle, suggesting that the Asmat killed Michael in retaliation for some murders of their people by Dutch traders a few years earlier.

See also: The Disappearance of Sean Flynn; He Walked Around the Horses.


  1. Talk about eating the one you love

  2. The obvious thing to note here is that sexual taboos vary across cultures, and he could've unknowingly or unthinkingly violated one of those. Could even be something as simple as going naked without a penis gourd. (And the definition of "naked" is also cultural; an Amazonian man is naked only if the glans penis is showing, and many cultures might require men to wear more clothing in some contexts than others, or less.) But possibly he took a lover he shouldn't have taken, such as maybe another lover's brother, which might be considered incest. I'm also wondering if their definition of adultery included male couples; the universal definition of adultery (meaning if you do this, you are committing adultery anywhere) is sleeping with another man's wife without his permission; for obvious reasons, two men cannot do this unless we call one a wife (which means stratification, are we talking age, gender, or simply referring to a male servant as a wife?)

    Anthroplogy and sex: It's that confusing.

    Wait, god-king? White people gonna white people, I guess.


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