On the South Pacific island of Tanna, beneath a volcano that rumbles and smokes, a guy wearing a fake U.S. Army uniform raises an American flag. Then 40 barefoot men march past, carrying fake rifles made of bamboo, their brown chests decorated with red paint spelling out "USA."
Later, a group of men slinging fake chainsaws sing a homemade hymn: "We've come from America to cut down all the trees so we can build factories."
This isn't a protest or a piece of performance art. It's a religious ceremony held every year on Feb. 15 -- John Frum Day, the high holy day of a South Pacific religion that worships a messiah who is, as Paul Raffaele writes in a wonderfully weird story in the February issue of Smithsonian, "an American god no sober man has ever seen."
This is a bizarre story dating from the 1930s, through WW2 and on to the present. Our copy of Smithsonian arrived a couple days ago, but I haven't gotten to it yet. I plan to rectify that situation this evening...