At some level don’t we all want to be worshiped, adored even? One may be loathe to admit it but all of us, even those with the least amount of narcissistic tendencies have a trace amount of the want. Have you met anyone that has felt the honest to God experience of massive adoration? I’m not talking the mere idolatry of film stars or musicians for these pale in comparison. I’m talking the real thing, of being venerated by an entire people, of ones effigy being put on a pedestal, worshiped as a savior, as a redeemer, as a God.
The Cargo Cults of the South Pacific have always fascinated us. For many, the years during and after World War II brought times of massive change. For those in Melanesia, Micronesia, and New Guinea war time brought the arrivals of new God’s, of their talismans, and of their fetishes. The tides of war brought a slew of materiel to many an island outposts shores. As this cargo of clothing, tires, shipping containers, food, and manufactured goods appeared as if from nowhere, locals became certain that this was manna from heaven. Their deities and ancestors creating the goods by spiritual means, as a way of helping the native people.
As the war came to a close these sacred items stopped washing up on the scattered islands. These items became fetishized further still. A bond between the old Gods and the trappings of Western mechanization (aeroplanes, boats, airports, landing strips, radios, etc..) was created and soon mock airstrips, palm frond airplanes, coconut radios, and rifles made of bamboo popped up. Ceremonies sprang up revolving around an islands men marching in formation with their stick guns while saying prayers to their “aeroplanes”. These imitations of western culture became ritualized and performed over and over as hopes of attracting more cargo. Certain Americans such as John Frum where worshiped as Gods and may have come from an actual visit by someone as mundane as “John from America”. To this day the John Frum movement exists and it is believed that John Frum will return on February 15th to save the islands and in turn make everyone prosperous with Western goods. Mock parades with mock weapons are staged on mock landing strips to signal his return.
Perhaps the cargo cult closest to our heart is the Prince Philip Movement on Tanna, in Vanuatu. The Yaohnanen believe that Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, the consort to Queen Elizabeth II, is a divine being, the pale skinned son of a mountain spirit and the brother of John Frum. According to island lore the son traveled far away were he married a powerful lady and was to one day return. The cult was formed in the 1960’s and was given credence by the royal visit of 1974. Prince Philip’s aids made sure a signed photograph was sent to the villagers who in turn sent him a traditional pig killing club called a nai-nai. The prince then sent a photograph posing with the weapon which further entrenched the relationship. Funny, given Prince Philip’s gaffes with foreigners and his general perceived aloofness. Still, there are worse men to worship than Prince Philip.
We can only dream that one day a shipment of our shirts pops overboard and washes up on some idyllic shore only to be venerated by the locals in all of our gingham and striped splendor. For all we know our man E.M.M. is already the ruler of some volcano puffing, palm fringed paradise, resplendent in our shirts as if they were the robes of the Gods. Perhaps we should instead be worshiping him from afar…..