Schneebaum, Tobias 1922(?)–2005

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Schneebaum, Tobias 1922(?)–2005

(Theodore Schneebaum)

OBITUARY NOTICE—See index for CA sketch: Born March 25, 1922 (one source says 1921), in New York, NY; died of complications from Parkinson's disease, September 20, 2005, in Great Neck, NY. Adventurer, artist, and author. Schneebaum was best known for his autobiographical accounts of his life among native tribes in Peru and New Guinea. An artist by training, he attended what is now the City College of the City University of New York from 1938 to 1942. He then worked as a radar mechanic in Fort Wayne, Indiana, before continuing his studies under Rufino Tamayo at the Brooklyn Museum School of Art from 1945 to 1949. Schneebaum spent several years traveling to Japan, Korea, and Alaska before returning to New York City in 1952 to start a career as an expressionist painter. As a homosexual and a Jew, Schneebaum never felt fully accepted, even among the city's more bohemian circles. He therefore traveled to Mexico to live at an artists' colony and in 1955 won a Fulbright fellowship that allowed him to move to Peru. It was here that he learned of the Arakmbut people (also known as the Harakumbut, though Schneebaum calls them Akaramas in his writings). Enamored by the idea of living among native peoples, he decided to journey into the jungle, where he was welcomed by the Arakmbut. These native people, he soon learned, had no qualms about homosexuality or bisexuality, and Schneebaum finally found a place where he felt accepted and comfortable. After several months with the Arakmbut, however, Schneebaum had a disturbing experience. He witnessed a group of tribesmen massacring a rival tribe. Afterwards, some of the victims were cut up, cooked, and eaten. In his first memoir, Keep the River on Your Right (1969), Schneebaum admitted he ate some of the flesh. Soon after this, he left the tribe. He continued his travels, however, journeying to Libya, India, Borneo, and New Guinea. In Indonesian New Guinea, he once again took up tribal life, living with the Asmat people for several years. He became an expert on their culture and served for a time as assistant curator at the Asmat Museum of Culture and Progress in Agats, Indonesia. Schneebaum wrote about his life in New Guinea in Wild Man (1979) and Where the Spirits Dwell: An Odyssey in the New Guinea Jungle (1988). Returning to Peru in 2000, he was the subject of the documentary Keep the River on Your Right: A Modern Cannibal Tale. While critics of Schneebaum's work sometimes doubted the veracity of his tales of cannibalism, many reviewers praised the poetic and sometimes powerful quality of his writing. Also the author of Asmat Images from the Collection of the Asmat Museum of Culture and Progress (1985) and The Soulship (2000), his autobiography Secret Places: My Life in New York and New Guinea was published in 2000.



Schneebaum, Tobias, Keep the River on Your Right: A Modern Cannibal Tale, Grove (New York, NY), 1969.

Schneebaum, Tobias, Wild Man, Viking (New York, NY), 1979.

Schneebaum, Tobias, Where the Spirits Dwell: An Odyssey in the New Guinea Jungle, Grove (New York, NY), 1988.

Schneebaum, Tobias, Secret Places: My Life in New York and New Guinea, University of Wisconsin Press (Madison, WI), 2000.


New York Times, September 25, 2005, p. A27.

Times (London, England), October 6, 2005, p. 67.