April 17, 2006
The second coming
On schedule for 2006 in Vanuatu:
Followers of a South Pacific cult, who worship a mythical Second World War American serviceman they hope will one day return bearing riches, believe that their prayers have been answered.
For 60 years, the bizarre John Frum movement on Tanna, in the Vanuatu archipelago, has believed that the great wealth or “cargo” that the United States military brought to their island home in wartime will one day miraculously return.
They worship a messiah-like figure, John (or Jon) Frum, thought to be a combination of an ancient spirit and wartime GIs based on Tanna who introduced themselves to locals as “John from America”.
Carrying wooden “rifles”, and with the letters USA daubed in red paint on their bare chests, they have paraded for decades in home-made GI uniforms beneath a tattered Stars and Stripes in the hope of somehow persuading the US government to bring back the wealth.
Now, as part of its Millennium Challenge fund - which rewards developing nations that have adopted political and economic reforms - the US is to give Vanuatu £37 million in aid, prompting cult followers to believe that their decades of prayer have not been in vain. This has caused a problem for the government of Vanuatu, which must now explain to the cult that the aid is intended for the entire nation, and not just Tanna.
… “We’re just about to embark on explaining to the John Frum leaders that the money from the Americans is a gift for the whole nation, not just for them,” said John Shem, an official at the finance ministry. “It’s one of their beliefs that some day John Frum will revisit them and bring a lot of money. It’s absurd - a load of rubbish - but they’re convinced of it.”
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