Saturday, July 31, 2010

John the Other Revelator

In the 1930s, a new religion sprang up amongst the people of a primitive society living on the island of Tanna in Vanuatu. Supposedly a man in a white coat calling himself "John Frum" appeared to them with a revelation that they were God's chosen people, and that a new spiritual kingdom would be theirs just as soon as they cast off all influences of white European society. Anarchy ensued as the villagers abandoned "civilization" overnight, burning their money, wrecking churches and schools, and throwing away all white man's things.

European colonial authorities tried in vain to suppress the John Frum movement, and even arrested a black man who they claimed was Frum. But strangely, even though the legend of John Frum warns against the white man's influence, many eyewitness accounts of Frum describe him as white.

Even more contradictory, the John Frum movement become that from which we derive the term "Cargo Cult" during World War II, when presence of U.S. troops greatly inspired the Frumsters. Like the natives in The Gods Must Be Crazy whose chance encounter with a Coke bottle changed their lives forever, the cult of John Frum suddenly became enraptured by the mysteries of modernism, and became sycophantic of all things U.S. Army. Says Wikipedia:

After the war, and the departure of the Americans, followers of John Frum built symbolic landing strips to encourage American aeroplanes to once again land and bring them "cargo". In 1957, a leader of the John Frum movement, Nakomaha, created the "Tanna Army", a non-violent, ritualistic organisation which organised military-style parades, their faces painted in ritual colours, and wearing white t-shirts with the letters "T-A USA" (Tanna Army USA). This parade still takes place every year on February 15.

The cult is still active today. The followers believe that John Frum will come back on a February 15 (the year of his return is not known), a date which is observed as "John Frum Day" in Vanuatu.

Kentucky's own "Appalachian Voodoo" movement, which your humble scribe confesses involvement in by trying to promote their atonal music on my Creeps record label, were also unabashedly a Cargo Cult, and even went to far as to compare themselves directly to the Cult of Frum during their heyday in Rockcastle County in the 1990s. Grillo the Clown, the infamous Kentucky street musician and another Creeps alumnus, was also a part of the Appalachian Voodoo movement.

(Photo top: the Red Cross of John Frum, Vanuatu, 1967. Photo bottom: Grillo the Clown, Irvine, KY, 2004.)

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