Tuesday, January 31, 2006

A Religion That Grew From a Lot of Brew

A Religion That Grew From a Lot of Brew (free registration required):
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...


Gruntled said...

It is a fascinating story. They don't seem to be able to identify any historical John Frum, but the other elements of a cargo cult based on the US military are all there. They also have a schismatic group which tries to synthesize the John Frum cult with Christianity.

Denis Hancock said...

I am fascinated as well by the "cargo cults". They are well outside my world-view, and maybe that is why.

Denominationalism in cargo cults?