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NYC - Lecture Series w/ Carl Hoffman

A SAVAGE HARVEST: A Tale of Cannibals, Colonialism, and Michael Rockefeller’s Tragic Quest for Primitive Art

Michael C. Rockefeller, the 23-year old son of New York governor Nelson Rockefeller, vanished off the coast of southwest New Guinea on November 20, 1961 while collecting art for the Museum of Primitive Art, founded by Nelson in 1957. Despite an exhaustive search by airplanes, helicopters and ships, no trace of his body was ever found, and he was declared dead by drowning in 1964.

Soon after his disappearance, rumors began circulating that he had made it to shore, only to be killed and cannibalized by the local Asmat, talented artists and storied warriors whose complex cosmology was built around sacred, reciprocal violence, head hunting and cannibalism. The stories were vehemently denied by the Dutch government and the Rockefeller family and, while those and other sensational theories continued to circulate, they remained just that – rumors.

Until now.

Through exhaustive archival research in the Netherlands and the US, Hoffman uncovered hundreds of pages of never-before-seen original letters, cables, reports and other documents from the Dutch government and the Catholic Church, and important witnesses who were still alive and had never spoken publicly in 50 years, all which revealed that the government and local Church authorities had carefully investigated the case, knew what happened to Michael, yet chose to remain silent to the public and even Michael’s own parents.

The witnesses and original documents only told part of the story, however. To understand and verify them, Hoffman learned Bahasa Indonesian and spent four months in Asmat, 10,000 square miles of swamps and rivers without a single road, living with the sons of the men named in the reports as having killed and eaten Michael. Becoming the ‘little brother’ of one of the elders of the village that killed Michael, a village without plumbing, electricity, stores or regular communication of any kind with the outside world, Hoffman unraveled the village’s complex social structure and political history, learned its stories, and was able cross check the information in the documents and to piece together the puzzle of Michael’s death from the Asmat themselves.

Hoffman’s lecture, illustrated with still photographs from the 1950s, 1960s and his two journeys to Asmat in 2012, and high definition video, tells the story of what really happened to Michael Rockefeller and how Hoffman solved the mystery. It is a story of history, art, colonialism, adventure, and traveling deep into a foreign culture in order to untangle a clash between two worlds that resulted in the death of one of America’s richest and most powerful scions.

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 It’s Most Dangerous Buses, Boats, Trains and Planes, was named one of ten best books of 2010 by the Wall Street Journal and was a New York Times summer reading pick. His first, Hunting Warbirds, a selection of both the History and Military Book Clubs, told the story of a daring expedition to recover and fly a B-29 bomber off a frozen lake in northern Greenland, for which he made two journeys that covered more than six weeks just 600 miles south of the North Pole. He has won four Lowell Thomas Awards from the Society of American Travel Writers Foundation. A veteran journalist, he has traveled to more than 70 countries on assignment for Outside, Smithsonian, National Geographic Adventure, ESPN The Magazine, The Wall Street Journal magazine, Wired and many other publications. He is a native of Washington, D.C. and is the father of three children.

Date: 03/24/2014

Time: 6:00pm Reception, 7:00pm Lecture

Location: Club Headquarters, 46 E 70th Street, NY, NY, 10021

Member Ticket Price: Free

Guest Ticket Price: $20

Student Ticket Price:

Free to EC Student Members, $5 w/ valid Student ID

Reservation Notes:

This event is now SOLD OUT.

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