Friday, February 16, 2007

Cargo Cult in the Telegraph

There's a facinating story in the Telegraph about one of of the most bizarre 'Cargo Cults' of the South Pacific.
The US's standing in the world may have plummeted under President George W Bush, but a bizarre cargo cult in the Vanuatu island nation holds America in god-like esteem.
The Jon Frum movement celebrated the 50th anniversary of its founding yesterday with a lavish feast in which village men dressed up as US soldiers and marched in front of a giant Stars and Stripes flag on a bamboo pole.
Miniature American flags festooned trees lining the black sand parade ground which forms the focus of Lamakara village, the headquarters of the cult, on the jungle island of Tanna.
The origins of the cult date back to the 1930s, when Britain and France jointly ran what was then the colony of New Hebrides.
Tanna's inhabitants bridled at colonial rule and the missionaries who badgered them to embrace Christianity, stop drinking the mildly narcotic drink kava and abandon other customary ways, known in pidgin English as kastom.
Village elders tell of how a mysterious outsider came to their forbears in a series of apparitions, telling them to go back to their traditional ways. The idea of a messiah-like outsider was given a huge boost during the Second World War, when hundreds of Tannese men were recruited by the Americans to build roads, airstrips and bases. They were impressed by the large amounts of cargo – tanks, weapons, medicine and food – brought by the US military. The shadowy spirit figure they already believed in gradually assumed a name and a nationality – Jon Frum is believed to be a contraction of John From America, a reference perhaps to a soldier who showed particular generosity.
I had to double-check that it wasn't the 1st of April today.


Deacon John said...

Yes, once we American's were greeted with a smile throughout the world! I remember my old Navy days when we went ashore to spend good ole American dollars. The natives loved us, and we bought their junk for our girls at home . . .
Retired John from Florida

Kathy said...

Thomas Merton found the cargo cults fascinating. He seemed to think they were indicative of the misdirection of hope that can happen in the spiritual life. Well, maybe that was what he thought or maybe that was what I was thinking about. In either case I heard him talk about them in some of his talks for his novices--old tapes that Gethsemane used to sell. He may have written about them elsewhere too.