via NYTimes, September 25, 2005: Tobias Schneebaum, Chronicler and Dining Partner of Cannibals, Dies [excerpts] By MARGALIT FOX Tobias Schneebaum, a New York writer, artist and explorer who in the
1950's lived among cannibals in the remote Amazon jungle and, by his
own account, sampled their traditional cuisine, died on Tuesday in
Great Neck, N.Y. He was in his mid-80's and a longtime resident of
The cause was complications of Parkinson's disease, his nephew Jeff
Schneebaum said. The elder Mr. Schneebaum, who had several nieces and
nephews, leaves no immediate survivors.
Schneebaum came to prominence in 1969 with the publication of his
memoir, also titled "Keep the River on Your Right" (Grove Press). The
book, which became a cult classic, described how a mild-mannered gay
New York artist wound up living, and ardently loving, for several
months among the Arakmbut, an indigenous cannibalistic people in the
rainforest of Peru. [...]
...Mr. Schneebaum's work raises tantalizing questions about the role of
the anthropologist, the responsibilities of the memoirist, and cultural
attitudes toward sexuality and taboo. It also offers a look at the
persistence of an 18th-century idea - the Western fantasy of the noble
savage - well into the 20th century.
In 1955, Mr. Schneebaum, then a painter, won a Fulbright fellowship
to study art in Peru. There, he vanished into the jungle and was
presumed dead. Seven months later, he emerged, naked and covered in
body paint. The experience had transformed him, he would later say, but
in a way he could scarcely have imagined.
Theodore Schneebaum was
born on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, most likely on March 25, 1922
(some sources say 1921), and reared in Brooklyn. Visiting Coney Island
as a boy, he was captivated by the Wild Man of Borneo, a sideshow
attraction famed for its brute exoticism.
Mr. Schneebaum, who
disliked the name Theodore and eventually changed it to Tobias,
attended the City College of New York. In 1977, he received a master's
in cultural anthropology from Goddard College in Vermont.
As a young man, Mr. Schneebaum was part of New York's flourishing
bohemian scene. He studied at the Brooklyn Museum School of Art with
the renowned Mexican painter Rufino Tamayo and was gaining recognition
for his abstract paintings, shown in New York galleries.
But as a
gay man and a Jew in 1950's America, Mr. Schneebaum felt, he often
wrote afterward, that there was nowhere he truly belonged. Craving
community, he began to travel, and lived for several years in an
artists' colony in Mexico.
In 1955, Mr. Schneebaum accepted the fellowship to Peru, hitchhiking
there from New York. At a Roman Catholic mission on the edge of the
rain forest, he heard about the Arakmbut. (The tribe, whose name is
also spelled Harakumbut, was previously known as the Amarakaire. In his
memoir, Mr. Schneebaum calls it by a pseudonym, the Akaramas.)
Arakmbut, whose home was several days' journey into the jungle, hunted
with bows, arrows and stone axes. No outsider, it was said, had ever
returned from a trip there.
Mr. Schneebaum was not inclined to
boldness. In New York, he had once called a neighbor to dispatch a
mouse from his apartment. (The neighbor, Norman Mailer, bravely
obliged.) But when he heard about the Arakmbut, he set out on foot,
alone, without a compass.
"I knew that out there in the forest
were other peoples more primitive, other jungles wilder, other worlds
that existed that needed my eyes to look at them," he wrote in "Keep
the River on Your Right." "My first thought was: I'm going; the second
thought: I'll stay there."
To his relief, the Arakmbut welcomed
him congenially. To his delight, homosexuality was not stigmatized
there: Arakmbut men routinely had lovers of both sexes. Mr. Schneebaum
spent the next several months living with the tribe in a state of
unalloyed happiness. [...]
"Keep the River on Your Right" caused a sensation when it was
published. Anthropologists were aghast: ethnographers were not supposed
to sleep with their subjects, much less eat them. Interviewers were
titillated. ("How did it taste?" a fellow guest asked Mr. Schneebaum on
"The Mike Douglas Show." "A little bit like pork," he replied.) [...]