By Jeff Burns
like me and fantasize about exploring the remotest rain forests and interacting
with indigenous peoples, but realize that you’re better suited for reading
about it, here are some more books about wild jungles that might interest you.
1961, Michael Rockefeller of THE Rockefeller family, son of New York
Governor and Vice-President Nelson Rockefeller and grandson of John D.
Rockefeller, disappeared without a trace in New Guinea while on a trip to
the most remote areas to collect primitive art. In Savage Harvest: A Tale
of Cannibals, Colonialism, and Michael Rockefeller's Tragic Quest for Primitive
Carl Hoffman makes his own journey 50 years later to try to figure out what
happened. While the more or less “official” story was that Rockefeller
probably drowned while swimming for help after his boat capsized, there have
always been rumors that perhaps he was murdered. The natives he met and
dealt with practiced traditional ritualized warfare, headhunting, and
cannibalism well into the 1950s, and despite Dutch (The Netherlands controlled
the area at the time.) protestations to the contrary, maybe even long
beyond. Hoffman explains why the Dutch were keen to have the death
labeled accidental, and he presents a thorough examination of all the
government and media accounts of the disappearance. He also retraces
Rockefeller’s travels and meets the sons of the men who may have been involved
with Rockefeller’s last days. Hoffman immersed himself in the Asmat (the
tribe involved) culture and brings it to life for the reader while he solves
the mystery and proves pretty conclusively what happened.
Mother of God: An Extraordinary Journey into the
Uncharted Tributaries of the Western Amazon is by Paul Rosolie, a
twentysomething naturalist and adventurer who made his first trip into the
Amazon jungle at 18. You may have heard
of him as the subject of a Discovery TV
ratings stunt that aired recently called Eaten
Alive, in which he was to have been eaten by a giant anaconda, supposedly
to call attention to the plight of the anacondas and the threatened Amazon
rainforest. The show was widely
condemned, before and after airing as misleading, fraudulent, tawdry, and other
things, and unfortunately it colored my perception of this book as well. If I had never heard of the tv show, I would
have been very satisfied with the book.
It is a thrilling adventure, and it paints a vivid picture of the flora
and fauna of Amazonia, and the environmental destruction happening there every
day. However, the fact that Rosolie was
involved with the sensationalistic Eaten
Alive, leaves a bad taste in my mouth (pun intended). If he is a part of this, I thought, might he
not have used a little creative license in the book to make some elements more
exciting? It was a good read, all things
considered, and I would recommend it (now that I’ve planted the seeds of doubt
in your mind). Judge for yourself.
I haven’t yet read Walking the Amazon: 860 Days. One
Step at a Time by Ed Stafford, published in 2012, but it’s going on my
list. In 2008, Stafford set out to walk
the entire length of the Amazon, a 4,000 mile journey, from Peru to Brazil.
Also on my “to-read” list is Buddy Levy’s River of
Darkness: Francisco Orellana's Legendary Voyage of Death and Discovery Down the
Amazon in which he examines the first Spanish conquistadors’ explorations
of the Amazon and exciting recent archaeological discoveries that are
challenging long held understandings of the history of the region and of
American native peoples in general.