Sunday, February 05, 2006

The Return of the Messiah, the Mahdi, & John Frum

While Jews await the arrival of the Messiah, Christians await the Second Coming of the Messiah, and Muslims riot and kill to hasten the appearance of the Mahdi, South Pacific Islanders are praying for the promised return of John Frum.

During World War II, in the South Pacific, "cargo cults" developed with the arrival of the American Navy. The strategy of "island hopping" to defeat the Japanese required military supply bases to be established on many islands with populations that had very little contact with the outside world. The Vanuatu island of Tanna was one of those islands.

Undisturbed for centuries, the isolated islanders created a culture of fishermen and farmers, polygamy, ritual dancing, and kava drinking. Kava is a strongly intoxicating and hallucinogenic drink made from a plant root. Scottish Presbyterian missionaries, the Christian version of the Taliban, arrived sometime around 1900 and immediately banned polygamy, dancing, kava drinking, and anything else that seemed to be fun.

Some disaffected native men, secretly gathered one night in the late 1930s to drink large quantities of kava. They hoped to receive messages from the spirit world. After hours of drinking and dancing, an etherial man dressed in white appeared to them. He said his name was John Frum and they should stop going to the Christian churches, rid themselves of their money, and return to the ways of the ancient ancestors. The men tossed their money into the sea and began hosting great feasts to honor John Frum. Alarmed over the new cults ability to attract converts, the colonial authorities jailed the cult leaders in 1941. But, the cargo cult of John Frum continued and spread.

A year later in 1942, hundreds of men in white arrived in the islands - the U.S . Navy. The islanders had prayed that John Frum would return with great things. The sailors brought much wonderful cargo with them - chocolate, Coca-Cola, and cigarettes. That their prayers were answered was the only conclusion and the cargo cults of John Frum grew ever faster.

The Pacific War ended in 1945 and the American forces left for home. Ever since, the John Frum believers have been waiting for John Frum and the cargo to return. On February 15 of every year, men don homemade U.S. Navy and Army uniforms, raise an American flag, march around carrying bamboo 'rifles', their chests painted with 'U.S.A.' in red. Other men carry fake chainsaws and sing a hymn: "We've come from America to cut down all the trees so we can build factories." These men believe they are members of the Tannese army, a special branch of the U.S. Army.

Six decades after the war, Chief Isaac clings to the belief that John Frum will return. When asked what he prayed for, he replied, "A 25-horsepower outboard motor for the village boat...Then we can catch much fish."

Paul Raffaele of Smithsonian magazine, inquired of the chief, "John promised you much cargo more than 60 years ago and none has come. Why do you still believe in him?"

"You Christians have been waiting 2,000 years for Jesus to return to Earth," Chief Isaac said, "and you haven't given up hope."

It was all very wonderful until May 2004 when a mini-war broke out between the followers of John Frum and those of the Prophet Fred. 400 islanders from two villages separated by 460 meters clashed with knives, slingshots, axes and bows and arrows. A Presbyterian church and six houses were burned down, and 25 seriously injured people were taken to the only hospital in the capital, Vila.

The Prophet Fred had convinced some of the John Frum cargo cult people to return to Christianity. "In the past we believed in John Frum, but now we believe in Jesus," said Alfred Wako, 49. "The John Frum people don't go to church and they don't send their children to school. They believe in the old rituals. They are heathens."

The anthropologist Kirk Huffman, explained that "(m)ovements like these were a way for traditional people to come to terms with colonialism and Christianity."

The Islamic Fundamentalist movements are also a reaction to colonialism, often Christian, modernity, and globalization; a fundamental return to the basics of belief, a return to the days of glory, influence, and demonstrable cultural superiority. Muslims are demanding repatriation of the land of the Caliphate, the old empire that included nearly everything from Spain to Arabia to Persia. The 'good old days' when life was simple and good for Muslims and the infidels lived in fear and subjugation seem so much better than life today in which the infidel culture is everywhere from satelitte television to Coca-Cola.

John Frum/ Prophet Fred, Jesus Christ/ Prophet Mohammad - at some level the battle of gods and religious beliefs rages. Though the people of Tanna have held a ceremony to mark the end of hostilities, no one believes the truce will hold. The Western and Islamic worlds may have their own ceremony for the eventual cessation of hostilities, but no one will believe the war to be over, only a timeout called to reload and repopulate


Sources:
Port Vila Presse
The Sydney Morning Herald



The life of Indigo Red is full of adventure. Tune in next time for the Further Adventures of Indigo Red.

4 comments:

Tom C said...

I come for food and I get it. Once again,Thanks Indi.

Indigo Rose said...

What's to say? Aren't we all waiting for something or someone to make a difference in our lives? Having someone else lead us takes the responsibility out of our hands and the guilt associated with our stupid actions doesn't weigh so heavily.
This isn't said on a strictly religious platform - a spouse, a boss, a job, a President, congress ... all of these, and more, represent the ease in which we give a piece of ourselves away. The lesson to be learned is to know how much power to give, how to get back our own power, and how to use that power in a responsible manor.

Tom C said...

Responsible manner? Soooo finding an island full of hot babes, and dropping out of the sky in a flash of light is irresponsible? ;)

devildog6771 said...

Capt. Picard would say this is an excellant example of a violation of the "Prime directive" and the subsequent after effects! Many people laugh at Star Trek trekies and Sci Fi fans. I believe there are lessons to be learned shown in an entertaining manner if one would only take a closer look.