Happy John Frum Day!

Something a bit different today, folks!

What’s the most important holiday this month? It’s certainly not Presidents Day, nor even Valentines, but today, February 15, John Frum Day!

This is the day that celebrates the appearance of the great messenger of the gods who prophesied the dawn of a new age rich with material goods, when all the interfering white men would leave. John Frum is a perhaps-mythical American perhaps seen in a kava-induced spirit vision, who in the 1930s promised the people of the island of Vanuatu in the New Hebrides that wonderful goods would be sent from America for them if they would spurn colonial ways and return to their cultural roots.

They did, and sure enough, in the 1940s with the war in the Pacific, the cargo did indeed arrive in plenty. And thus the Cargo Cult was born. The GIs, however, obviously did not create the goods themselves and did not seem particularly worthy of such immense wealth. But they displayed strange symbols and did strange rituals that must have somehow persuaded the gods to supply them with food, and clothes, and tools of all kinds.

So the native Melanesians adopted these ways. They made fake airfields and planes to lure the gods down. They made bamboo rifles and marched up and down the fields with USA painted on their chests and proudly displayed an American flag.

The cult thrived for a long time despite the persecution of the colonial leaders. For a while a Vietnamese businesswoman tried to take the cult over from the tribal chiefs, but that failed. Christian missionaries have made inroads, but the most serious challenge arose when a man had a vision of a flood destroying his village. After it happened, “Prophet Fred” became a spiritual leader, mixing John Frumism with Christianity. He took over most of the believers.

Isaac, the last chief¬† and leader, and his remaining followers were exiled, and built a village of outcasts in the jungle. They are still there, marching up and down, maintaining the pure faith they had been taught, faithfully waiting for the cargo to come back. And there’s apparently a rival cult on Vanuatu that worships Prince Philip instead. Heretics.

This story should mightily bother anyone interested in religious history (it freaks the hell out of me!) as there are a lot of very uncomfortable, all too familiar parallels with what we were taught in church.

In any case, in honor of the legend, Happy John Frum Day! May your huts be rich in pigs, wives, sweet potatoes and oh that rich, rich cargo from America!

“Make moka, not war!”