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That particular event is extremely well documented, and despite happening over 100 years ago, seems to be an occurrence that left quite an impression - and one that remains on the minds of missionaries and their ilk to some extent if the frequency of references to the incident are any indication.

However, what is probably the most well known incident of this sort in the greater Papuan region, was not directly related to missionary activities. I am referring of course to the disappearance in November, 1961 of Michael Rockefeller while on a collecting expedition for the Museum of Primitive Art (when the museum was closed in 1976 the bulk of the collection went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art).

Some people feel he may have drowned or been attacked by sharks or crocodiles while trying to swim to shore from their capsized canoe. With regard to that scenario, some people say the threat of aquatic predators is possible but not really that likely.

Boas was on to something, and Millerís ideas strike me as complimentary and mutually reinforcing. While Boas only mentions the personal creative satisfaction of the artisan him or herself, the idea that creative virtuosity could serve as an appeal to prospective mates, seems like a fairly reasonable extension of his conclusions on art motives? and one that could reinforce the artisans own pleasure in the aesthetically creative act.

A final comment or two on head hunting? for the majority of us who will read this discussion, I think it is safe to say that if this phenomenon is of interest at all, then at most we may possibly gain an intellectual understanding of why various societies might indulge in headhunting, but our own deeply ingrained cultural praxis will prevent us from ever looking at headhunting the way someone who is an autochthonous member of a headhunting society might.

The argument is that such individuals are more desirable to the opposite sex and hence are more likely to pass their skills and aesthetic tendencies on to progeny? Reinforcing the creative/artistic tendencies of the species in the following generations.

Of course there are critics of these ideas, as there always are with anything of this sort, especially when ideas like Miller manage to exceed the boundaries of the specialized scientific community and generate interest among aymen but critiques aside, Miller perspective makes a lot of sense to me in general.

That could be a complete projection on my part, but none the less I understand that it is difficult to address subtle and nuanced issues like this in a language that is not one own. I'll be hard pressed to utter a single simple sentence in German, and addressing issues of more depth like we are discussing here would be out of the question.

Staggering numbers of people are killing and being killed all the time, and television, radio, print and electronic media present these events nearly anywhere we look. More than what culture or time period the victim may be from, I think it is the presence or absence of the umanizing details?

Does a great artist have to graduate from art school? The answer is no. There might be some great artist indeed studied an art school. But it does not mean that people have to study in an art school to become great artists. There  are a lot of great painters and calligraphers in Chinese history. But almost none of them ever studied in an art school.

Yet it struck me that headhunting quite often, though not always, occurs in the context of inter-tribal or inter-village warfare. So, would placing headhunting in the context of war mitigate the abhorrence some of us might feel toward the institution of headhunting? Interestingly, it strikes me that for natives of, as Steve P. aptly designated it ?

In other words creativity and virtuosity whether it be story telling , song , drawing on cliff walls, carving and shaping wood, stone or bone, personal adornment, basket making or any such skill that affords aesthetic pleasure and reveals what could be deemed artistic prowess is in short, a urn on?


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Last modified: Tuesday October 18, 2005.