John Frum Day
Friday, 15th February 2008 by Alex Turnbull
Today on the island of Tanna, Vanuatu, in the South Pacific, it’s John Frum Day.
Each year on the 15th of February, hundreds of people come to the tiny village of Lamakara from all over the island to celebrate their devotion to their deity, John Frum. These worshippers are described by anthropologists as members of a “cargo cult”, and the John Frum cargo cult is one of the last in existence.
Many cargo cults arose in villages in the South Pacific during World War II, after hundreds of thousands of American troops descended upon the islands from the skies and seas, bringing with them a seemingly endless bounty of supplies and material goods. Hardly any wonder then that when the troops eventually left the islands, the locals began to pray for the return of the cargo.
The name ‘John Frum’ is sometimes considered a corruption of “John from (America)”, and the cult believe that their saviour will eventually bring more cargo to this island, just as he did during WWII. Although it’s possible that John Frum existed before the 40s, he would most likely have been described as a white man until black American GIs arrived, whereupon the cult’s devotees very sensibly decided that in fact John Frum had been a black man all along.
Today in Lamakara, John Frum’s followers will be dressing up as GIs, painting “U.S.A.” on their chests, raising the American flag, building symbolic landing strips, carrying bamboo bayonets, and marching to the top of their local volcano, Yasur1.
Confusingly, the central tenet of John Fruminism2 is actually the rejection of Westernism – devotees are instead encouraged to return to traditional “kastom” (a local word for native Tannese customs).
Thanks to Brett Hanover.