Cargo cults and John Frum movement

Plane and chuteVarious cargo cults emerged around the world, mostly in the Melanesian islands of Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, New Caledonia, Fiji and Vanuatu in the 1930s and from WWII. Simplistically cargo cults arose from some islanders’ fascination with western goods, especially as stories spread of how they dropped from the sky.    

Cargo cults in part pertain to these often, remote islanders’ lack of knowledge at the time of how such modern goods were transacted, let alone made. And yet the remoteness did not preclude them from the gospel and teachings of the second coming. In some ways, cargo cults represented a wish to either emulate or present freedom from the ‘white’ man in their midst.

An interesting article Cargo Cults of Melanesia was first published in 1959 by Scientific American.

It is believed the term John Frum was derived from “John from America”. The likelihood is that men from Tanna Island working in Efate where the US Roses base at Havannah Harbour was located returned home with stories of goods being dropped from the sky. It is also thought the Tanna folk were inspired by the ‘black’ men they met or saw in the US armed services. 

John Frum ceremonial cross photo by Tim RossThe John Frum movement gained significant momentum, contesting the elections leading to independence in 1979 and played a major role in the Tanna Island rebellion to secede from the new nation soon after. John Frum Day is still celebrated on Tanna Island every year on 15th February.

This article by Jerry Matlack was published by Damn Interesting in 2007 and provides a lot of information. Matlack contends American soldiers based in Tanna, even though there were no US bases on the island, impressed the locals. Other accounts favour the view that the Tanna tribesmen returned from Efate with their stories of modern goods coming from above.

Another more detailed article In John They Trust by Paul Raffaele Photographs by Paul Raffaele was published in Smithsonian magazine, February 2006.

And How Religion Begins by Grisham examines the John Frum movement in the context of the formulation of religion and contains a wonderful two part video of the villagers, general history of the movement as well as the reverence for Prince Phillip, who some believe is related to John Frum.