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It was then that the famous missionary Rev. James Chalmers and a party of 12 lost their heads and were eaten by Goaribari headhunters. Another missionary reported witnessing over 10,000 skulls in the long houses of Goaribari.

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.

Anyway, the general theme of the book is that breeding without adequate resources leads to starvation, so females inherently select males that control adequate territory with which to support the offspring. He documents a large number of examples of territorial competition among males, with death of one of the competitors being extremely rare.

The sort of most dramatic of the other plausible scenarios is that he became the victim of Asmat headhunters and all that implies. If that was how it happened, the bitter irony naturally is that the young Rockefeller was passionate about the area and had a great interest and respect for a smart people and culture.

In any case, as you say, tales of headhunting and cannibalism can be quite jarring. The really astonishing part of it in my opinion however, is just how relatively common such practices were around the planet.

Much to the chagrin of some modern evangelical types, she offered these words to the descendants of those who executed the missionaries, I think my ancestor was wrong to come in and try to change you.

Of course, people from outside headhunting cultures, that become the victims of headhunting will always have a degree of sensational interest attached to their stories just because of the relative novelty of the event.


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Last modified: Tuesday October 18, 2005.