Michael Rockefeller wasn't just born with a silver spoon in his mouth. He also had golden spoons in both ears, a platinum soup tureen up his bum, and was probably physically fellated by fate itself. When you're the son of a future US Vice President and a member of the most ludicrously over-wealthy family in American history, you'd think that it would take a pretty impressive reversal of fortune to bring the lad to a sticky end, wouldn't you? Well, this is a "World of Weird" column, so just guess what happened?
It was 1961. Michael was 23 years old, and was paddling a dugout canoe a few miles off the coast of New Guinea. He had developed a keen interest in anthropology after seeing his father's extensive collection of tribal artworks, and was on an expedition to study the art and rituals of the Asmat tribe, alongside the Dutch anthropologist René Wassing. The Asmat lifestyle certainly presented a change of pace for the American college boy- their rituals included homosexual sex and urine-drinking, and they also pursued ritualistic warfare featuring headhunting and cannibalism. While I've heard those Frat Houses can get pretty lively, they probably fall some way short of bumming your mates while tucking into a brains'n'piss buffet.
So, November 17 1961 was when it all started to go wrong. The 40-foot dugout canoe in which he was travelling became swamped, and the two native guides swam off to fetch help. Rockefeller and Wassing stayed with the canoe and waited. And waited. Two days later they were still waiting, and getting desperate. Rockefeller was an athletic man (an excellent college wrestler) and a strong swimmer. Although they were drifting some ten miles off the coast, he was convinced that he could he could swim to the shore- so he set off, leaving Wasser behind.
A day later, Wasser was rescued. But there was no trace of Michael. In the days and weeks that followed, a huge search was launched by the Rockefeller family, with helicopters and ships scouring the area. Nothing was found, and eventually he was declared dead- presumed drowned or eaten by the huge salt-water crocodiles found locally. But rumours persisted that he had reached the shore and met a more colourful fate, and in 2014 a National Geographic investigation concluded that he had been killed and eaten by the local Asmats.
The Asmats might have been headhunting cannibals, but they weren't indiscriminate about it. They only chowed down on people where there was a serious grudge involved, so Rockefeller should have been safe. Unfortunately his timing was lousy- just three years earlier there had been a bloody clash between Asmats of Otsjanep village and Dutch colonial officials, which had left several Asmats dead. This meant they were severely pissed off with the White Tribe, and looking for vengeance. When Rockefeller staggered into their village he'd been promptly speared, his brain and flesh eaten, and his drained blood smeared over the warriors as part of their sexual rituals. Probably washed down with a refreshing glass of warm wee too.
So, in a hopelessly contrived attempt to round this lurid horror all off with some sort of moral, if you're planning your gap year and fancy some close encounters with uncontacted tribes, keep the sad story of Michael Rockefeller in mind and preach them the virues of veganism as if your bloody life depends on it. Who knows? It just might. And the sight of those wiry burnished warriors gobbing each other off with a feast of hummus, and drenched in almond milk would be just priceless.