Mon. May 20th, 2019

Memorizing Historical Character of Pacific: Jon Frum and his Cargo Cult

 Donald Trump is in news due to his declaration of withdrawing US Special Forces soldiers from Syria but the mystical chapters of history have praised American troops in the Pacific Islands especially Vanuatu. An example of this is witnessed every February 15, as natives of Tanna Island in the Republic of Vanuatu make a huge celebration in honor of a mystical person named Jon/John Frum.

The occasion is observed by villagers wearing homemade US Army britches and paint USA on their chests and backs, and perform some holiest religious services. This is the legacy of Cargo Culturist Jon Frum movement. Their most sacred symbol is Red Cross and they perform prayers and offer flowers at the cross.

The followers also perform the flag-raising ceremony and a military parade is conducted with holding rifles made of bamboo. This article attempts to enlighten about the scholar views among the historical dairies about Cargo Cult and Jon Frum movement.

Origin of Cargo Cult

As per the researchers, Cargo cult is defined in the work “Cargo Cult: The Mysterious John Frum Movement” as “a kind of fetishism of capitalistic commodities, cargo cults are small societies of people that practice an almost religious devotion to certain behaviours and ritualistic acts. They believe these actions will manifest material wealth, in particular desirable Western goods such as ‘cargo’. This usually occurs as a result of contact with commercial networks of colonising societies. Cargo cults typically form under a charismatic leader who may have a dream or ‘vision’ about the future which is often linked to the value of ancestry and the ability to recover customs and culture through a return to traditional morals and practices”.

According to Robert Silverbeg, “Reflections John Frum, He Come” during the 1930s the cargo cult go popular in many parts of Melanesia. During 1940s in early period of World War II, this cargo cult movement became popular in this island after the arrival of American military forces with their material goods. It is to be believed the islanders became impressed both by the egalitarianism of the Americans and their wealth and power. As the British and French that had colonised Vanuatu (known as New Hebrides) had treated them in an injustice way whereas American soldiers gave them their dignity back and respect them.

John Frum: Reality or fiction?

Another scholar, Monty Lindstrom work Cult and Culture: American Dreams in Vanuatu, stated that John Frum’s message has “changed depending on social context over the past forty years. It began as exhortations to good, cooperative behavior; it then stressed cultural revitalization and a return to kastom; then predicted eschatological change and an exodus of the European colonials; then the arrival of American soldiers and material goods. Although, cult ideology continues to reflect all of these themes, people today talk in terms recalling the early days of the American Peace Corps”. Paul Raffaele work in 2006, stated that “the locals don’t know where the foreigners’ endless supplies come from and so suspect they were summoned by magic, sent from the spirit world. To entice the Americans back after the war, islanders throughout the region constructed piers and carved airstrips from their fields. They prayed for ships and planes to once again come out of nowhere, bearing all kinds of treasures: jeeps and washing machines, radios and motorcycles, canned meat and candy”.

The American troops found the “natives hard at work building what they said were roads, docks, and airfields in preparation for the arrival of the magical ships and planes that would bring the cargo treasures from America. The newly arrived troops did indeed come with immense quantities of cargo- the military supplies out of which they would build the bases they needed for the battle against Japan- and distributed small gifts to the natives of the island and all this helped to reinforce the hope that promised savior was on his way”, as per Silverberg. Paul Raffaele work said “the locals don’t know where the foreigners’ endless supplies come from and so suspect they were summoned by magic, sent from the spirit world. To entice the Americans back after the war, islanders throughout the region constructed piers and carved airstrips from their fields. They prayed for ships and planes to once again come out of nowhere, bearing all kinds of treasures: jeeps and washing machines, radios and motorcycles, canned meat and candy”.  Some scholars enlighten the masses view that he will return on this day and bring with him cargo from heaven. They conflate perceived benefactors such as Uncle Sam, Santa Claus and John the Baptist into the mythic figure called John Frum, who would empower the islanders by giving them cargo wealth.

Furthermore, it was stated by Sliverberg, that “to hasten the coming of the cargo the islanders discarded their recently adopted western ways, thinking that they were offensive to the cargo gods. They have up European dress, reverting to loincloths and body paint; they threw their money into the sea; and in their confidence that once the cargo had arrived all their needs would be provided for, they abandoned their farms and slaughtered their livestock. [but] John Frum did not come. Now and then a false messiah would arise, claiming to be he and the European colonial authorities would arrest him and transport him to some other island”. This led to the intensifying of developments of these savior cults throughout the region.

In addition, Silverberg work of 2016 believed the cargo-cult phenomenon may be inspired by one science fictional story, “although the simple native folk of these islands may still be painting their faces, beating the tribal drums, and imploring mysterious gods to bring them television sets and smartphones aboard gleaming airplanes descending from the heavens”. Other accounts have a believes that “he was nothing but a spirit who promised that if they reverted back to their own tradition, then one day Americans would come to shower them with wealth and wondrous modern conveniences”. The identify of Frum as per scholars is a matter of further research.

Conclusion: Legacy of Cargo Cult

To summarize, identity of John Frum is debated among scholars but the legacy of its followers still exist in Vanuatu, and similarly, many other cargo cults exist across the Pacific Islands. Davide Abbatescianni article Cargo Cult: The Melanesian “Myth Dream” of the Future, stated in the last decades many of the cargo cults disappeared. However, less than ten cults are still active: “John Frum, Prince Philip and Tom Navy‟s cults on Tanna Island (Vanuatu), Turaga nation on Pentecost Island (Vanuatu), Yali‟s cargo cult in Madang region (Papua New Guinea), and the Paliau movement, the Peli association and Pomio Kivung in other areas of Papua New Guinea”.  These Cargo cults are still remembered and are the part of historical dairies of the Pacific Islands.

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* Dr Sakul Kundra is assistant Professor in History, College of Humanities & Education, FNU. For comments or suggestions, email. dr.sakulkundra@gmail.com. The views expressed are his own and not of this newspaper.

 

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