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Vanuatu: The Remote South Pacific Island Where They Worship Planes

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When American soldiers brought the modern world to remote islands in the Pacific, the cargo cults that worship John Frum were born.

The Remote South Pacific Island Where They Worship Planes
Men look over the spot where they believe the prophet John Frum first appeared to their ancestors around the time of World War II. Paul BLACKMORE/Gamma-Rapho/Getty Images

After a group of indigenes saw their first plane fly over Vanuatu, a remote island in the South Pacific of Australia, during the Second World War they created a religion based on the worship of aircrafts. The religion centering on John Frum arose in the late 1930s, when Vanuatu was known as the New Hebride but was first discovered in 1946 by Australian government patrols.

The planes occasionally delivered food and supplies to the islanders so the group began to believe that cargo would be brought to them by a Messiah. As a result, whenever they saw a plane fly overhead, they would build a replica in the hope that they would receive “more blessings”.

The islanders did not know where the objects were coming from which led them to believe that the objects were being delivered by supernatural means.

The worship of aircrafts in the island of Vanuatu is referred to as The John Frum movement because they believe Frum, who was supposedly a First World War serviceman, is the Messiah sent from God to bring them gifts and good tidings.

The name ‘John Frum’, or ‘John From’, comes from the way the soldiers would introduce themselves: ‘Hi, I’m John from New York’ or, ‘Nice to meet you, I’m John from Miami’.

Dr Richard Feynman, an astrophysicist, described the cult in a paper, saying: “During the war the cargo religion saw airplanes land with lots of good materials, and they want the same thing to happen now. So they’ve arranged to imitate things like runways, to put fires along the sides of the runways, to make a wooden hut for a man to sit in, with two wooden pieces on his head like headphones and bars of bamboo sticking out like antennas, he’s the controller and they wait for the airplanes to land.”

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