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Tobias Schneebaum (March 25, 1922September 20, 2005) was an Americanmarker artist, anthropologist, and AIDS activist. He is best known for his experiences living, and traveling among the Harakambut people of Perumarker, and the Asmat people of Papuamarker, Western New Guineamarker, Indonesiamarker then known as Irian Jaya.

Early life

He was born on Manhattanmarker's Lower East Sidemarker and grew up in Brooklynmarker. In 1939 he graduated from the prestigious Stuyvesant High Schoolmarker, moving on to the City College of New Yorkmarker, graduating in 1943 after having majored in mathematics and art. During World War II he served as a radar repairman in the U.S. Army.


In 1947, after briefly studying painting with Rufino Tamayo at the Brooklyn Museum of Artmarker, Schneebaum went to live and paint in Mexicomarker for three years, living among the Lakadone tribe. In 1955 he won a Fulbright fellowship to travel and paint in Perumarker. After hitch-hiking from New Yorkmarker to Peru, he lived with the Harakambut people for seven months, where he slept with his male subjects and claimed to have joined the tribe in cannibalism on one occasion.

Until 1970 he was the designer at Tiber Press, then in 1973 he embarked on his third overseas trip, to Irian Jayamarker in South East Asia, living with the Asmat people on the south-western coast. He helped establish the Asmat Museum of Culture and Progress. Schneebaum would return there in 1995 to revisit a former lover, named Aipit. He recounted his journey into the jungles of Peru in the 1961 memoir Keep the River on Your Right. In 1999, he revisited both Irian Jaya and Peru for a documentary film, also titled Keep the River on Your Right.

Later life

Schneebaum spent the final years of his life in Westbeth, an artists' commune in Greenwich Villagemarker, New York Citymarker, also home to Merce Cunningham and Diane Arbus, and died in 2005 in Great Neckmarker, New Yorkmarker. He bequeathed his renowned Asmat shield collection to the Metropolitan Museum of Artmarker in New York City and his personal papers are preserved within the Jean-Nickolaus Tretter Collection in Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Studies.


Schneebaum received a Master of Arts in anthropology at The New School in New York Citymarker, and another from Goddard Collegemarker, Plainfieldmarker, Vermontmarker.


  • Schneebaum illustrated the 1959 rhyming children's book Jungle Journey by well-known poet Mary Britton Miller, which was the first "book" version of his disappearance in the Peruvian Amazon. He had told the story to Miller.
  • Keep the River on Your Right (1969)
  • Wild Man (1979)
  • Asmat: Life with the Ancestors (1981)
  • Asmat Images: The Asmat Museum of Culture and Progress (1985)
  • Where the Spirits Dwell: An Odyssey in the Jungle of New Guinea (1989)
  • Embodied Spirits: Ritual Carvings of the Asmat (1990)
  • Secret Places: My Life in New York & New Guinea (2000)
  • He also was a contributor to People of the River, People of the Tree: Change & Continuity in Sepik & Asmat Art (1989)
  • Keep the River on Your Right: A Modern Cannibal Tale, documentary film directed by brother and sister (and fellow Stuyvesant alumni) David Shapiro and Laurie Gwen Shapiro - won a 2001 Independent Spirit Award (2000)


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