An American God

Every fifteen February we come down to Tanna for John Frum’s Day.

Chief Isaac, he give us the GIs we all wear, each one with a flag. My woman Wanda at the time, she embroider the flags on here, as you see.

These rifle we make ourself from the bamboo, except for Chief Isaac.

Chief Isaac, he got a genuine Springfield  Uncle Daddy get from a US Marine himself when they come here for the Japan war.

When the US Marine come, they bring things like none of nobody ever seen. Flying airplanes and vast boats full of radios, riding jeeps, beer and Coca-cola in glass bottles of endless supply.

The old Chief David see in these US Marine the promise of John Frum himself, his magical boats of plenty that come from beyond the farthest sea.

Most us still believe just enough in John Frum that each year we give him his day.


What Pegman Saw: Vanautu

inlinkz frog

February 15th is Vanautu’s  holiest of days where islanders honor a ghostly American messiah, John Frum. “John promised he’ll bring planeloads and shiploads of cargo to us from America if we pray to him,” a village elder tells me as he salutes the Stars and Stripes. “Radios, TVs, trucks, boats, watches, iceboxes, medicine, Coca-Cola and many other wonderful things.”

The John Frum movement is a classic example of what anthropologists have called a “cargo cult”—many of which sprang up in villages in the South Pacific during World War II, when hundreds of thousands of American troops poured into the islands from the skies and seas.  The locals didn’t know the source of the endless supplies, so the assumed that they were summoned by magic from the spirit world.

After the war, the islanders prayed for ships and planes bring back the jeeps and washing machines, radios and motorcycles, canned meat and candy, beer and scotch whiskey.

They Americans never returned in force, but the John Frum movement has endured. Hope springs eternal.


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  1. Lynn Love

    This really is fascinating, Josh and very well told. I can see how the goods the Americans brought would take on mythical status for people so unused to seeing these things. Great piece of writing

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