Another Religious Conflict

Another inter-religious conflict broke out this in the small Pacific Island of Vanuatu, where members of the John Frum (or (Jon Frum) cargo cult clashed with local Christians.

The John Frum movement saw Americans who brought cargo--food, medicine, vehicles--to small Pacific islands during WWII as fulfilling a prophecy that John Frum, a mighty God who would come from the sky to save them. Paul Theroux described his encounter with the John Frum cult in his book, The Happy Isles of Oceania.

The group rejects Christianity, which was brought to Vanuatu by Presbyterian missionaries.

A piece in the Telegraph described some of their practices.

  • On Tanna, islanders became convinced that John Frum was an American. They have spent the last 60 years dressing up in home-made US army uniforms, drilling with bamboo rifles and parading beneath the Stars and Stripes in the hope of enticing a delivery of "cargo" again.

  • They have even hacked air strips out of the jungle and built crude wooden aircraft to tempt the speedy return of American munificence...

  • Drawing the shape of a US flag in the volcanic sand with his finger, Chief Isaac said: "John predicted the Americans will help us. He will make the whites bring us cars, wharves, airports, everything. John will bring a better life."

An anthropologist who has studied the group for 17 years, says it was a way for local people to save their culture.

Kirk Huffman, an anthropologist who lived in Vanuatu for 17 years, said: "Nobody knows who John Frum was, though it is irrelevant whether he was a real person or a spirit. Movements like these were a way for traditional people to come to terms with colonialism and Christianity. Vanuatu's culture would have been entirely squashed if it wasn't for cults like John Frum."

A different view on John Frum and Christianity in Vanuatu comes from this piece about a Canadian named Dave Devers. Inspired by a biography of missionary John Paton he pulled out of a fire (literally), Devers decided to visit Vanuata
several years ago. He found the graves of Paton's wife and daughter (who died soon after arriving in the 1800s.)

After meeting several local Christians, who mentioned they had few Bibles in Bislami, which is spoken on this island, he decided to raise money to buy bibles, and has been back to to distribute them. He's even made some friends among the John Frum group.
Our magazine did a piece on him about a year ago, because he belongs to a Covenant Church.

Which goes to show that even a story halfway around the world may have a connection in your own backyard.


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