Interesting Religious Sects Cargo Cults of the South Pacific Part 1

About the religious sect known as the Cargo Cults, history, size, and tradition of the South Pacific religions.



The cargo cults are based on a simple premise of a simple people, yet are often misunderstood by outsiders who cannot conceive of the state of mind, of the naivete, of the hope and faith that could lead to the emergence of the cults. Essentially, the cargo cults spring from the have/have-not relationship between the colonial powers and the natives where the cults exist. The destitute natives, upon seeing the unfamiliar and immense material wealth of the white men, made a cult out of the expectation of receiving such wealth for themselves.

Birth: In the South Pacific, off the northeast coast of Australia, lies the chain of islands which make up Melanesia: the Solomon, Santa Cruz, Fiji, Banks, Loyalty, New Hebrides, and New Caledonia islands. They are sometimes called the Black Islands because of the skin color of the natives. It is here that cargo cults are found.

As the islands vary, so do the cults, but the basic concept is the same. The natives want the goods, or "cargo," that the white colonists have, goods, they are denied--but will have one day in abundance. Some believe the goods will be shared; others, more revolutionary, feel the present order will be overturned. Dead ancestors may bring the cargo back to the islands by boat (back because it was stolen), or Americans may bring it in planes. Or a messiah may appear to lead the people out of bondage.

The notion of cargo arrived with the traders and explorers of the 18th and 19th centuries. For example, an island in the New Hebrides called Tanna, which today has the strongest and most messianic cargo cult, was discovered in 1774 by an English explorer, Capt. James Cook. The British and, later, French and American trader ships that followed brought tools and trinkets which impressed the natives as treasures from heaven.

With no knowledge of factories or production, the natives assumed the white men had received these treasures from the gods. White men who didn't give them any cargo, they reasoned, were trying to withhold the religious secrets by which such cargo could be obtained.

Growth: When missionaries arrived in Melanesia, principally after 1914, many tribe members adopted Christianity, thinking this was the key to the strangers' sharp knives and bright cloth. Later some native mission workers, being closest to the source of goods, became full-fledged cargo cult prophets. But neither pagan nor Christian rituals brought the longed for cargo.

Frustrations grew. On Tanna, salvation took the form of a mythical being, John Frum. "Back at the end of the century we heard that Jesus Christ was coming....Jesus never come. Then Isac appeared, sometime 1930s, thereabouts. Isac promised John and disappeared....John came and spoke to us. John he speak in many ways, many times, full of wisdom. We will have a cataclysm....The earth will rise....One land one people. John will return to bring us an era of peace and joy. The whites will leave.... We will regain our youth....Custom will return."

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