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Nov 2013 back issue
Cargo Cult Back to menu
by Vlad Sokhin
Cargo Cults are religious practices found in Melanesia, focused on obtaining the ‘cargo’ (material wealth) from the Western World through magic, religious rituals and practices. Cargo Cult followers believe that their ancestors promised the cargo to them, but that crafty Western people unfairly took possession of it. In the first part of 20th century the followers of John Frum Cargo Cult of Tanna island (Vanuatu) built big wooden aircrafts, landing strips and bamboo control towers, imitating all "white men rituals", in the hope they would attract real airplanes with cargo to the island. Nowadays islanders still believe in a mythological man called John Frum who, by legend, appeared on Tanna in 1937. Locals believe that he was a black American soldier. He told the natives to abandon Christianity and go back to their old traditions. In exchange for this, the locals would receive all "cargo" destined for them. Every day in Lamakara village, followers of the cult raise the U.S. flag that symbolises power and material wealth still owned by Westerners. According to the local myths, John Frum is to return on the 15th February with "cargo".  In anticipation of this momentous event, each year on 15th day of the second month, the people of Lamakara wear U.S. military uniforms.  Many of them paint the acronym ‘USA’ on their chests and backs and march with bamboo rifles in the U.S. Navy style.
Followers of John Frum Cargo Cult from Lamakara village during the everyday ceremony of American flag raising. For them an American flag is a symbol of "cargo" (wealth of the Western civilization).
Lamakara villagers paint ‘USA’ on theirs chests and backs. For them the United States is a dream country, from where they expect to receive the ‘cargo’ that was  promised by John Frum.
Cargo cult members march with bamboo rifles during the celebration of John Frum's Day in Lamakara village.
Custom dance during the celebration of John Frum's Day in Lamakara village.
A chief of Lamakara village and a leader of John Frum's movement Isaac Wan (80) in his house. On 15th of February of each year he wears a US military uniform, that was given to him by US tourists decades ago.
Villagers dance to American modern music during John Frum's festival.
Tanna islanders during the celebrations of John Frum's Day. Wooden arms represent the power of the United States.
Prince Philip Movement members from Yaohnanen village hold portraits of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. According to their belief, the Prince is a spirit from Tanna, who became a man in order to marry the British Queen and to possess all her wealth so that it could be brought to the Island.
Young Tanna boys with bamboo rifles during the celebration of John Frum's Day in Lamakara village.
Local women dance in Imale village while young boys play guitars and sing songs about John Frum and his ‘apostles’: Jimmy Cowboy, Jerry Cowboy and others.
Villagers prepare the traditional meat dish ‘lap-lap’ to feed all the participants and guests of the John Frum festival. Every year on February 15th hundreds of people come to Sulphur Bay villages of Tanna to see the cargo cult's ceremonies.
Followers of John Frum Cargo Cult decorate a Red Cross on the grave of the first leader of the cult, Tom Meles, in Ipeukel village. The Red Cross is the most sacred symbol of the John Frum movement. The sign was adopted from the red cross symbol of the American military medical corps, who freely distributed medical supplies to the natives during World War II.
Members of the Cargo Cult sing songs and play guitars during Friday Night ceremony, dedicated to John Frum. Their songs are about the ‘messiah’ John Frum and his ‘apostles’.
Kids from Imale village play with wooden planes. Their grandfathers used to build big wooden aircrafts, duplicating all "white men rituals" to try and attract real airplanes with cargo to the island.
An old Ni-Vanuatu man stares at the plane in Tanna's airport. Followers of Cargo Cults believe that all material wealth will come to Tanna from the USA by air, as John Frum promised.
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