31 January 2006

The Washington Post’s Peter Carlson previews the Smithsonian’s report on John Frum Day, the high holy day of one of the last so-called “cargo cults” — religious movements formed during the WWII era among South Pacific islanders reacting against the influence of white colonialists or missionaries, and simultaneously focused on the goods, or cargo, that white travelers brought to the island. While Carlson’s summary tends to favor cheap yuks over historical context — the groups’ coconut-and-straw emulations of Western technology, mock U.S. military drills, and use of such “cargo cult” messiahs as John Frum to rebel against traditional missionaries illustrate a sad story of cultural misunderstandings — the Smithsonianinvestigation, due out this February, sounds like a more promising look at the phenomenon’s religious significance, and its long wait for a savior who hasn’t returned.