Cargo cults are forming around many primitive tribes around the world. These cults form when a tribe or village interacts with many technologically advance societies. Cargo cults mainly develop in small islands in the southwest Pacific Ocean. They first sprang up during World War II, when American troops flooded remote islands by sea and the sky. The locals do not understand many things about these foreigners, especially of how they seemed to have unlimited supplies. Main villagers were convinced that they “summoned” these goods by magic, or that the supplies were from the “spirit world.” To try to lure Americans back, residents of the remote villages built docks and airstrips, and hoped that troops would return with their “treasures” like jeeps, planes, and canned food. After the war, cargo cults began dying down as American soldiers no longer occupied these small villages and the only outlet to modern life was through an occasional tourist. However, a few cargo cults still exist, mainly the relatively large John Frum Movement in Vanuatu.
One of their main beliefs is of some sort of white “God.” For example, on the small South Pacific Island, Vanuatu, devotees honor a ghostly American messiah, John Frum. Usually, this messiah or god will bring planeloads and shiploads of cargo (hence the name, cargo cults), as long as they worship and pray to them. These gods are usually white, and often are pictured in a G.I.’s uniform.
The first record of cargo cults started in the countries of Melanesia, which is a region of Oceania in the western end of the Pacific Ocean. The first documented cargo cult was known as the Tuka Movement, which began in Fiji in 1885. These cults envy the foreigners’ supplies, but they are unable to obtain the supplies easily because of difficult trade (their remote location) or conventional traditions.
Even though many of these cargo cults have disappeared, the John Frum Movement still remains strong. Every year during the month of February, villagers at Sulphur Bay, Vanuatu, parade in old fading US army uniforms with wooden weapons. They go bare-chested with “USA” painted in bright red. In the background, the Stars and Stripes waves in the background from a large flagpole. During this month, the villagers celebrate and pray. The official day of “John Frum” day is held on February 15th. In fact, they will be celebrating their 54th anniversary. February 15th was in fact the day when villagers raised the United States for the first time. This celebration is held every year in hope that their homage to the US will lead to a return of their “messiah.” In addition, they hope that this may entice another delivery of “cargo.” As one of the longest lasting cargo cults, Vanuatu is really a unique place by its never diminishing faith.
The cargo cults that emerged in the World War II is a dying religion only found in remote locations around the Southern Pacific. These religions were brought on by misconceptions on how the United States produced their goods. These people do not understand manufacturing, so they assumed that it was from magic. In addition, the faith of these village devotees is extremely outstanding and it seems that it is never diminishing. This cult is a prime example of how human misinterpretation can lead to an entire population changing their entire lives.
Paul Raffaele, “In John They Trust,” Smithsonian
Phil Mercer, “Cargo cult lives on in South Pacific,” BBC