Wednesday, February 15, 2006

A Joyous and Cargo-Laden John Frum Day To All Of You!

Good Morning, dear readers, and a Happy John Frum Day to all of you!

What's that? You don't know who John Frum is? For shame, for shame. John Frum is the ideal messianic figure for liberal democracy.

Well, gather around, a little history lesson:

In WWII, the US used many of the islands in the pacific ocean as cargo-stations. Among them was Vanuatu. Turns out the islanders on Vanuatu were quite taken with American largesse: they'd never seen so much stuff. All kinds of stuff. Radios, cameras, canned food, toilets. Everything our glorious civilization has produced. So, life was a lot more interesting for the Vanuatuans during the war. But all things must pass, and after the war, America packed up its cargo and sailed away.

The Vanuatuans made an informed, intelligent decision: they must have been some sort of gods. And as all gods do, they will return. The embodiment of this largesse was an anonymous sailor named John Frum. He will come back and bring them cargo. Lots of it. Incidentally, this has nothing to do with the massive amounts of mildly hallucinogenic home brew called kava that Vanuatuans say is necessary for seeing John Frum

So, they started clearing landing strips. And building air-traffic control towers out of bamboo. And radios out of bamboo. And making bamboo rifles and marching around with USA painted on their chest. And still no cargo came. But faith, dear readers, is powerful. Very powerful. And so they wait.

And today is John Frum day. If you happen to go to Tanna, a small island in Vanuatu, you can catch the celebrations.

Now don't laugh. It's no more stupid than any other religion. In fact, the head chief says so himself.

From the Smithsonian:

As we look down into John Frum's fiery Tanna home, I remind him that not only does he not have an outboard motor from America, but that all the devotees " other prayers have been, so far, in vain. John promised you much cargo more than 60 years ago, and none has come," I point out. "So why do you keep faith with him? Why do you still believe in him?"

Chief Isaac shoots me an amused look. "You Christians have been waiting 2,000 years for Jesus to return to earth," he says, "and you haven't given up hope."

Some further reading:


Andrew said...

The Smithsonian article is very interesting. I doubt that their use of kava has anything to do with the whole cargo cult lunacy, though. I tried kava fairly recently, and while it tastes foul, it's not the kind of substance that makes one imagine a WWII soldier as Santa Claus.

K.C. said...

A couple of corrections:

- People from Vanuatu are called "ni-Vans", not "Vanuatuans"
- Kava isn't hallucinogenic in the least

Othewise, happy John Frum Day to you as well!

Anonymous said...

Somebody had to report this, therefore, the planes came back... not loaded with cargo, but then again, if Jesus comes back, he may not be passing out candy either.

Anonymous said...

An American soldier would seem a lot more like Santa Claus if he kicked out the imperial Japanese army which had set up business on your porch.

The question about the John Frum movement most pertinent today, I would think, would be how are they faring in the battle with Prophet Fred? No, really, look it up.

Jimmy "The Veal" said...

Harpers had a great article on John Prum Day back in 1995. The band I was in at the time wrote a song "Vanuatu" about the cargo cult concept.

I can't find a link better than

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