The cargo cult of John Frum

In the morning heat on a tropical island halfway across the world from the United States, several dark-skinned menâ..clad in what look to be U.S. Army uniformsâ..appear on a mound overlooking a bamboo-hut village. One reverently carries Old Glory, precisely folded to reveal only the stars. On the command of a bearded â..drill sergeant,â. the flag is raised on a pole hacked from a tall tree trunk. As the huge banner billows in the wind, hundreds of watching villagers clap and cheer.
Chief Isaac Wan, a slight, bearded man in a blue suit and ceremonial sash, leads the uniformed men down to open ground in the middle of the village. Some 40 barefoot “G.I.â..s” suddenly emerge from behind the huts to more cheering, marching in perfect step and ranks of two past Chief Isaac. They tote bamboo â..riflesâ. on their shoulders, the scarlet tips sharpened to represent bloody bayonets, and sport the letters â..USA,â. painted in red on their bare chests and backs.
This is February 15, John Frum Day, on the remote island of Tanna in the South Pacific nation of Vanuatu. On this holiest of days, devotees have descended on the village of Lamakara from all over the island to honor a ghostly American messiah, John Frum. â..John promised heâ..ll bring planeloads and shiploads of cargo to us from America if we pray to him,â. a village elder tells me as he salutes the Stars and Stripes. â..Radios, TVs, trucks, boats, watches, iceboxes, medicine, Coca-Cola and many other wonderful things.â.
In John They Trust