Sunday, January 28, 2007

American culture creep manifests itself in weird ways.

Indigenous cultures around the world have a variety of religions and faiths, having escaped the incursion of missionaries spreading the various flavors of European and American Christianity. The South Pacific island chain of Vanuatu, however, persists in an American-influenced, yet not-Christian religion: the cargo cult of Jon Frum.

The natives of these islands saw their first white man and their first glimpse of modern convenience during World War II as the Allies hopscotched their way through the Pacific. In their airplanes and ships, these visitors brought jeeps and canned food and a host of other mysterious and alluring items that must have seemed otherworldly to the natives.

Then the war ended and the visits from the white (and black) men stopped. The desire for their gifts, however, did not. When weeks and months passed without further gifts from the skies and seas, a legend, and then a faith emerged. The white man would come from his otherworldly place, with gifts of Spam and Coca-Cola, and maybe even a washing machine. Jon would come Frum America, his heavenly home. The Vanuatuans even built airstrips to ease his return, specifically on the island of Tanna. They also created a Jon Frum flag of a red cross on a white background. Not to denote Christianity, of course, but to represent the flag so many of the white men worked under.

Lest you think that this is some sort of materialistic, possession-based culture, consider one of the basic tenets of the cult. As a sign of faith, members are encouraged to throw away all money and let their land go to seed. They believe that Jon Frum will provide all. Eventually.

Over the years, some Vanuatans claimed to have a special gift that enabled them to hear Jon Frum from deep in the earth. These seers claim that Jon will be coming soon... yet he never does.

Their provider's reticence, however, doesn't stop the islanders. In fact, it only provokes more devotion. Every February 15, they celebrate Jon Frum Day, the expected date of his return to Vanuatu. Members of the Tanna Army (a tribute to the US Army, created on Frum's behalf) conduct a parade, with "USA" painted on their bare chests and carrying crudely-fashioned US flags.

Weird, yeah, but when you look at it, it's not that much different from any other religion -- salvation, gifts for the believers, an unseen provider. Most faiths, however, aren't based on the delivery of fresh C-rations.

Anyway, there's also a Prince Philip cult somewhere in the Hebrides, but that's a different story.

Monday, January 01, 2007

September 11 Memorial... Small Town New Jersey
Late December 2006