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Cargo Cults

Cargo cults are religious practices in Melanesia, the Pacific region stretching from Fiji in the East to Papua New Guinea in the West, which focus on obtaining the 'cargo' (or material wealth) from the Western World through magic, religious rituals and practices. Cargo cult followers believe that their ancestors bequeathed them the cargo but crafty westerners took possession of it and deprived them of their inheritance. At the beginning of the 20th century, cargo cult devotees were constructing big wooden aircraft, landing strips and bamboo control towers, duplicating some of 'white man's rituals' in the hope they would attract real airplanes with cargo to the island. Nowadays these traditions have declined but older followers of some of the cults still remember the good old times when they would imitate the behaviour of American soldiers who came to their islands during the World War II. On Tanna island in Vanuatu people believe in a mythical man called John Frum (possibly a corruption of 'from' since he was reputed to be from Amercia) who appeared in 1937. He told the islanders that they should abandoned Western habits including money, western education and Christianity, and go back to their old traditions, living by their 'kastom' (Pidgin English for 'custom'). In exchange for this they would receive 'cargo', or wealth and prosperity. Every day in Lamakara village, followers of the cult raise an American flag which symbolises the power and material wealth which they see as still being monopolised by Westerners. On 15th of February every year, the day John is expected to arrive, people wear U.S. military uniforms which they received from U.S. tourists and many locals paint the acronym 'U.S.A.' on their chests and backs and march with bamboo rifles in U.S. Navy style.

Followers of another cult on Tanna, the Prince Philip Movement, which is based around Yaohnanen village, believe that there is another true messiah - Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh and husband of Queen Elizabeth II of Britain.

He is worshipped as a divine person and legend has it that the Prince once left the island and traveled to a far away country, where he married a powerful woman. The legend goes on to say that he will return to Tanna, bringing to his 'motherland' all power and wealth of the British crown.

In Papua New Guinea, on the remote island of Bougainville in the village of Mewau, another cult called Snake Toki, or Cult 666, is based around the notion that the island is entwined by a huge snake-god called Toki. When the snake moves it causes earthquakes in Bougainville. After the civil war on Bougainville which dragged on from 1988 to 1998 self-proclaimed King David Peii II assumed control of the twin 'kingdoms' of Papaala and Me'ekamui in southern part of the island. Cult members support the idea of ??the kingdom of Bougainville and believe that praying to their god Toki will help them achieve independence from Papua New Guinea and gain the wealth of Bougainville. Cult members in Mewau don't drink alcohol or chew betel nut but all the locals, including small children, smoke tobacco.

Cargo cults are dying out fast and today there are no more people worshiping wooden aircrafts. Yet some tribes of Papua New Guinea continue building wooden prototypes of airplanes, helicopters and or cars and use them during elections or special events when the local politician comes to their province. People believe that if they put a rich powerful man in a wooden vehicle or a plane and carry him around their place, his power and wealth will remain in the village. During such events, some of the tribes use military costumes and march with wooden guns, 'guarding' the helicopters and aircraft of the visiting dignitaries.
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