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Human behavior, it seems to me, has obviously innate components. We are certainly hard-wired not to try to fly off buildings, and the fear of stepping off a cliff when we can see that there's no place near to land arises pretty early.

But most cultural activities and ethical consciousness are learned behavior (in my judgment). Children learn to not be cruel, they aren't born empathetic.

How sexual choice shaped the development of human nature. He addresses the matter of art and its role in human development, so I imagine it would be of interest to many forms.

The possibility of drowning is also viewed as unlikely in the minds of many people, first because apparently Rockefeller was acknowledged as a very strong swimmer, and secondly because two local guides that had been on the boat when it capsized did successfully swim to shore, and many feel Rockefeller was certainly capable of doing the same.

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.

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).

The cultural context is fascinating as well, and some of you will be aware that the Goaribari Islanders were notorious warriors. It is reported that Authorities were still confiscating skull trophies in the late 1950. Other infamous incidents have become very well known indeed. For instance the events of April, 1901 are legendary.

I had several friends in various effected areas and they are all safely accounted for to my relief. But, sadly so many and so much has been lost, and while everyone I know directly has turned up safe, there are family and friends of friends who are missing, and at this point Im afraid that hope of good news at this late date is fading.

Yes Steve P, Id agree with your final comments on animal behavior. It is a point well taken and indeed my choice of terminology was imprecise.

While the Chalmer incident left a powerful impression on the mind of missionaries, the Rockefeller incident is the one that tends to linger most in the thoughts of those of us who are interested in the art and culture of this area. This latter event happened in the Asmat region, which is West through the Torres Straight and up along the coast of West Papua (Indonesian side) in relation to Goaribari Island where the Gope board that started this thread originated.

When considering headhunting in isolation and without any context, and given our own backgrounds, most of us would be hard pressed to ever genuinely and completely dissociate the practice of headhunting from urder?in some sense.


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Last modified: Tuesday October 18, 2005.