Michael C. Rockefeller (born 1938 - died November 18, 1961?) was the youngest son of Governor Nelson Rockefeller and an enthusiast in anthropology. He disappeared during an expedition to New Guinea to study the Asmat tribe and collect Asmat art.
Rockefeller graduated from Harvard University cum laude in 1960, but had no intention of following his family into business. He served for six months as a private in the U.S. Army, and in 1961 took an unpaid job as sound technician and photographer on an expedition for Harvard's Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology led by Dr. Robert Gardner. The expedition studied the Ndani tribe of western New Guinea from March to September, and during June Rockefeller and a friend took a trip to the southern coast to meet the Asmat tribe, one of the last surviving Stone Age peoples on Earth. Rockefeller became enamored of the culture, and decided to return when the current expedition was finished. During a brief stay back in New York during September, Rockefeller organized a trip to collect Asmat art for his father's Museum of Primitive Art, now part of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Rockefeller travelled to Hollandia, Dutch New Guinea (now Jayapura, Indonesia, where he met Dutch anthropologist René Wassink. Rockefeller and Wassink purchased a motorized catamaran despite warnings that the vessel was not suitable for the open ocean, and spent the next month meeting different Asmat tribes and purchasing art.
Simon and Leo
Rockefeller and a friend briefly left the expedition to study the Stone Age Asmat tribe of southern New Guinea. After returning home with the Peabody expedition, Rockefeller returned to New Guinea to study the Asmat and collect Asmat art.
"It's the desire to do something adventurous," he explained, "at a time when frontiers, in the real sense of the word, are disappearing."
On November 18, 1961, Rockefeller and Dutch anthropologist René Wassing were in a 40-foot dugout canoe about three miles from shore when they were swamped. The two native guides swam for help, but it was slow in coming. After drifting for some time, Rockefeller said "I think I can make it" and swam for shore. Wassing was rescued the next day, while Rockefeller was never seen again, despite a lengthy search effort. He was finally declared dead in 1964.
Most believe that Rockefeller either drowned, was attacked by a shark or crocodile, or was killed by the native cannibals. Some reports have surfaced of a white man living with the natives, but those stories are not widely believed.
Many of the Asmat artifacts Rockefeller collected are part of the Michael C. Rockefeller collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
- Milt Machlin, The Search for Michael Rockefeller, Putnam, 1972. ISBN 1585790206
- Michael D. Rockefeller (editor) The Asmat of New Guinea: The Journal of Michael Clark Rockefeller, Michael D. Rockefeller, Museum of Primitive Art/New York Graphic Society, 1967.
- Outside magazine: "Lost Scion:Was Michael Rockefeller eaten by cannibals?"
- Rockefeller Arts Center: Who is Michael C. Rockefeller?
- review of The Search for Michael Rockefeller in A Common Reader
- Crime Library article on Michael Rockefeller disappearance