In John Frum We Trust

On Tanna, an island in the Vanuatu archipelago, there is a volcano god known as Kerapenmun.

Kerapenmun has two sons, and they are still worshipped today. The first was John Frum.

This is February 15, John Frum Day, on the remote island of Tanna in the South Pacific nation of Vanuatu. On this holiest of days, devotees have descended on the village of Lamakara from all over the island to 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.” [DOC]

The John Frum Movement sprung up sometime in the late 1930’s, and quickly became associated with the American GIs who were stationed at Vanuatu.

In 1943, the U.S. command, concerned about the movement’s growth, sent the USS Echo to Tanna with Maj. Samuel Patten on board. His mission was to convince John Frum followers that, as his report put it, “the American forces had no connection with Jonfrum.” He failed.

That’s not the only cargo cult on Tanna, however. John Frum has a brother, too — Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, and husband to Queen Elizabeth II. The Prince Philip Movement believes that Prince Philip is “a divine being, the pale-skinned son of a mountain spirit and brother of John Frum. According to ancient tales the son travelled over the seas to a distant land, married a powerful lady and would in time return.” Their faith is strong:

London may be half a world away from this obscure corner of Melanesia, but villagers say the spirit of Prince Philip is close. “We can’t see him, but sometimes we hear his voice,” said Chief Jack.

He knows that Prince Philip is, like him, in the twilight of his life, but Chief Jack is unfazed, believing the prince may be immortal.

If not, the villagers might switch their allegiance to Prince Charles or his sons.

“We don’t know where England is but we know he lives there and he has four children: Charlie, Andrew, Edward and Anna [sic],” said Jimmy Nipil, a tribe member in his thirties. “We believe England is a very special place.”

And as a bonus, here’s the quote of the day:

In 1964, one cargo cult on New Hanover Island in Papua New Guinea offered the U.S. government $1,000 for Lyndon Johnson to come and be their paramount chief.