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John Frum and the Cargo Cults

Article #255 • Written by Gerry Matlack

John Frum Day parade
John Frum Day parade

Every year on February 15th, natives of Tanna Island in the Republic of Vanuatu hold a grand celebration in honor of an imaginary man named John Frum. Villagers clothe themselves in homemade US Army britches, paint "USA" on their bare chests and backs, and run a replica of Old Glory up the flagpole alongside the Marine Corps Emblem and the state flag of Georgia. Barefoot soldiers then march in perfect step in the shadow of Yasur, the island's active volcano, with red-tipped bamboo "rifles" slung over their shoulders. February 15th is known as John Frum day on Tanna Island, and these activities are the islanders' holiest religious service.

The Vanuatu island group lies northeast of Australia and southeast of Malaysia and the Philippines. Prior to contact with Europeans, the people who lived there were primitive tribal societies. Many of history's stereotypes and legends regarding island cannibals originated from these societies; slain enemies and the occasional missionary were eaten, sometimes in the hopes of gaining magical powers, and other times due to food shortages.

Eventually the New Hebrides islands (as they were then called) were colonized and placed under joint British and French rule. Christian missionaries formed a makeshift government and court system which punished islanders for following many of their long-held customs, such as dancing, swearing, adultery, and polygamy. The colonizers also forbade working and amusement on Sundays. The islanders lived under this oppression for thirty years before a fellow native rallied the people and promised an age of abundance to any who would reject the European ways. He went by the alias "John Frum," a name possibly derived from the phrase "John from Jesus Christ"-- namely John the Baptist. Many islanders joined him, and the cult moved inland to escape the missionaries and return to their old traditions.

One day in the early 1940s, the relatively isolated group of islands was descended upon by hundreds of thousands of American soldiers who arrived by sea and by air. The world was at war, and America had plans to build bases on the Pacific islands. The newcomers recruited the locals' assistance in constructing hospitals, airstrips, jetties, roads, bridges, and corrugated-steel Quonset huts, all of which were strange and wondrous to the natives. But it was the prodigious amounts of war materiel that were airdropped for the US bases that drastically changed the lifestyle of the islanders. They observed as aircraft descended from the sky and delivered crates full of clothing, tents, weapons, tools, canned foods, and other goods to the island's new residents, a diversity of riches the likes of which the islanders had never seen. The natives learned that this bounty from the sky was known to the American servicemen as "cargo."

These new occupiers proved to be far better guests than the British missionaries had been. The islanders were further astonished at the sight of black GIs among the ranks, enjoying all the benefits of cargo that the white soldiers enjoyed-- something that the black islanders had been denied with rare exception. The islanders believed that their own dead ancestors continued to influence the communities of the living, and that their ancestors would one day come back to life and distribute to them unimaginable wealth. Therefore they reasoned that the white people must have had connections to their own ancestors, who would logically be the only ones powerful enough to rain down such wondrous riches.

It was during the war that the John Frum legend changed, recasting the religious icon as a black American infantryman. The black GIs were believed to have been John Frum's own detachment of the US Army, or perhaps the grown children of islanders believed to have been kidnapped by plantation owners long ago. It was said that John Frum lived inside the island's volcano, called "Yasur"-- the native word for "God."

When the war ended several years later, the Americans departed as suddenly as they had arrived. Military bases were abandoned, and the steady flow of cargo which had altered the islanders' lives completely dried up. The men and women of Tanna Island had grown to enjoy the radios, trucks, boats, watches, iceboxes, medicine, Coca-Cola, canned meat, and candy, so they set into motion a plan to bring back the cargo. They had surreptitiously learned the secrets of summoning the cargo by observing the practices of the American airmen, sailors and soldiers.

The islanders set to work clearing their own kind of landing strips, and they erected their own control towers strung with rope and bamboo aerials. They carved wooden radio headsets with bamboo antennae, and even the occasional wooden air-traffic controller. Day after day, men from the village sat in their towers wearing their replica headsets as others stood on the runways and waved the landing signals to attract cargo-bringing airplanes from the empty sky. More towers were constructed, these with tin cans strung on wires to imitate radio stations so John Frum could communicate with his people. Piers were also erected in an effort to attract ships laden with cargo, and the Red Cross emblem seen on wartime ambulances was taken as the symbol of the resurging religion. Today villages surrounding Yasur Volcano are dotted with little red crosses surrounded by picket fences, silently testifying to the islander’s faith.

The priests and prophets of the John Frum cult, called "messengers," foretold the return of planes and ships bearing cargo for the people of Tanna escorted by John Frum himself. The movement declared that in addition to returning to their "kastom" [custom] ways, money was to be thrown away, gardens be left untended, and pigs killed since all material wealth will be provided in the end by John Frum. Their god has yet to emerge from his home inside the volcano to bring the promised riches, and at least one visitor’s guide offers this advice: "If you question a local about their beliefs, they will most likely reply that you have been waiting for your messiah to return for over 2000 years – while they have been waiting for only 70."

Yasur the volcano
Yasur the volcano

Despite gaining their independence and becoming familiar with the workings of the world around them, new beliefs arise on the island regularly. A visit to the village of Yaohnanen in 1974 by Prince Phillip resulted in the formation of a Prince Phillip cult. Its followers believe that Phillip originally came from Tanna, albeit in a different form, and that he will eventually return to rule over them. A recent development is the appearance of the Prophet Fred, an actual person who claims to have raised his wife from the dead in early 2006. He preaches a turn to more mainstream Christianity, and his followers have had violent clashes with those of John Frum.

Vanuatu is not the earliest and far from the only place in Melanesia where cargo cults have existed. The origin of the earliest cargo cults in general can be traced back to 1871, when the Russian explorer Nikolai Miklouho-Maclay landed in Papua New Guinea bearing gifts of goods such as steel axe heads and bolts of cloth. Inevitably, missionaries soon arrived and began distributing goods. Initially all efforts to convert the natives proved useless, but one day the natives suddenly started converting in droves. The men and women of the island had theorized that learning the rituals of the Europeans would allow them to gain the secrets of cargo.

The religions introduced by missionaries were completely inconsistent with islanders' long-held beliefs, yet the natives could not deny the call of the cargo. The people therefore attempted to reconcile their existing beliefs with the missionaries' teachings, a practice which led to some strange interpretations. In New Guinea, one resulting version of Christianity described a god named Anus who delivered cargo of canned meat, steel tools, rice, and matches to Adam and Eve. When they discovered sex, Anus ejected them from Eden and struck them with a flood.

On the Island of New Hanover in the Bismarck Archipelago, another cargo cult arose in 1968 claiming that the true secret of cargo was known to only one man: President Lyndon Johnson. The natives of this island revolted against their Australian rulers, saved up $75,000, and sent a letter to Johnson offering to buy him and make him King of New Hanover. Strangely enough, he didn't accept.

Renowned physicist Richard Feynman coined the phrase "cargo cult science" based on such cults. The term draws a metaphor for research which is polluted by the mind's tendency to cherry-pick evidence that supports the desired outcome. Though it is tempting to look down on these islanders for their misguided assumptions, they are simply an extreme example of this very human bias. For them it was easier to believe that the control towers, headsets, and runways were the cause of the cargo-carrying airplanes rather than an effect, so they closed their minds to alternative explanations.

Some of these cargo cults continue to operate today, such as the parade-marching pseudo-marines of Vanuatu. So far no black US infantryman have crawled from the volcano to deliver the islanders' salvation, but every year they confidently hoist their flags and don their uniforms, so they'll be ready when that glorious day finally arrives. Perhaps one day it will.

Article written by Gerry Matlack, published on 19 February 2007. Gerry is a contributing editor for DamnInteresting.com.

Article design and artwork by Alan Bellows. Edited by Alan Bellows.
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120 Comments
davidmcw
Posted 19 February 2007 at 09:11 am

I just read an interesting (or damn interesting) book on the life of the broadcaster David Attenborough that discussed these cults.


thejustice15
Posted 19 February 2007 at 10:25 am

Now that's DI. Have any Americans attempted to demystify cargo for these people? I understand that the faithful may be quite entrenched in their beliefs, but a thorough explanation of WWII and military airlifts from a credible source (say, a U.S. Army officer) would be difficult to argue with.


haQpod
Posted 19 February 2007 at 10:39 am

I laughed several times while reading the article. Interesting subject, and as usual well written.

Just a thought: Might you by any chance be an atheist?


Beth
Posted 19 February 2007 at 10:53 am

"...Anus ejected them from Eden and struck them with a flood."

*giggle*


elvis2
Posted 19 February 2007 at 10:56 am

Hi,

Loved the article. I'm a frequent reader of the site, first time posting. I think there might be some inaccuracy around the President Johnson cult, I found this related article: http://www.forteantimes.com/articles/192_johnson1.shtml
Hope this helps,
Patrick


f5
Posted 19 February 2007 at 11:11 am

Even though Lock Ness and other monsters inhabit the pacific, I don't believe reading it will hurt my eyes..

DI article btw. Shows the importance of critical thinking


ChinnoDog
Posted 19 February 2007 at 11:21 am

Beth said: ""…Anus ejected them from Eden and struck them with a flood."

*giggle*"

Now there is a good reason to go to church. Comic relief!

Great article. And I thought I lived in a bubble. :-)


pEhrlich
Posted 19 February 2007 at 11:48 am

Did anybody else read the fine print on the Vanuatu map?

Oh and DI!


cutterjohn
Posted 19 February 2007 at 12:16 pm

thejustice15 said: "Now that's DI. Have any Americans attempted to demystify cargo for these people? I understand that the faithful may be quite entrenched in their beliefs, but a thorough explanation of WWII and military airlifts from a credible source (say, a U.S. Army officer) would be difficult to argue with."

I imagine they have, and i imagine the effect is similar to a scientist explaining evolution to a devout Christian. You can offer all the evidence in the world, but if it runs contrary to what a person *knows* in his heart is true, chances are it will be dismissed.

The mind, and religions, are strange things.


another viewpoint
Posted 19 February 2007 at 12:23 pm

...LOOK...up in the sky...it's a bird, no it's a plane, no it's...

CLUTCH CARGO...and his pals Spinner and Paddlefoot!


J.K.
Posted 19 February 2007 at 12:25 pm

"…Anus ejected them from Eden and struck them with a flood."

Would that make the colon eden then? :)

Seriously though that is an amazing write-up there. Shame how rotten missionaries tend to be historically forcing their rotten beliefs on people who were perfectly happy until that time. It's damn interesting to see how that forced warping of reality then can backpeddle into a kind of learning by example in a positive way to form an odd 'cargo cult' religion. They seem happy with it for sure, so why not? And as they said they've waited 70 years so far, and those who tried to ruin their lifestyle have waited for 2000, so who is to judge?


frenchsnake
Posted 19 February 2007 at 12:41 pm

So... what would happen to these people if America or some other country just dropped a shipment of food and clothes and things on them one day? I wonder what they would believe then....


riqie arneberg
Posted 19 February 2007 at 01:11 pm

thejustice15 said: "Now that's DI. Have any Americans attempted to demystify cargo for these people? I understand that the faithful may be quite entrenched in their beliefs, but a thorough explanation of WWII and military airlifts from a credible source (say, a U.S. Army officer) would be difficult to argue with."

Has anyone tried to explain to the "true believers" that the Iraq war is about corporate profits? Bush fans "know" it is all about "fighting terrorism".


Dave Group
Posted 19 February 2007 at 01:15 pm

"When they discovered sex, Anus ejected them from Eden . . ."

Would that mean, then, that the penis is Satan???

It is interesting, though, that all these new religions share the same god: materialism. Maybe Anna Nicole Smith or Paris Hilton is the Second Coming. Brrrr, scary.


jwilder517
Posted 19 February 2007 at 01:30 pm

I'm glad someone else noticed the caption in the map!

Good - and DI - article!


Canadian_Nate
Posted 19 February 2007 at 01:51 pm

riqie arneberg said: "Has anyone tried to explain to the "true believers" that the Iraq war is about corporate profits? Bush fans "know" it is all about "fighting terrorism"."

hey arneberg.
Just because you don't like a president that actually stands up for whats right instead of "people pleasing" like most close minded democrats, (as well as money being lost on a large scale in Iraq, not being made by corporations), I don't really see how this ties in very well with this well-written DI article. Just enjoy reading it and keep your biased opinions to yourself and stop trying to pass off lies as truth


jglucker
Posted 19 February 2007 at 02:15 pm

I thought this was going to be about the cult of Cargo Pants and their devotion to The Gap...


albernathy0
Posted 19 February 2007 at 02:18 pm

Wow this article was Extremely fascinating. Great job! I can't wait to share it with my friends.


Malregarbitation
Posted 19 February 2007 at 02:25 pm

The late anthropologist Marvin Harris provided an excellent analysis of the cargo cult phenomenon in his book "Cows, Pigs, Wars, and Witches: The Riddles of Culture" (1974). It appears to be a primary source for this article, yet, curiously, goes unmentioned. It's in print.


Morgan
Posted 19 February 2007 at 02:32 pm

"The men and women of the island had theorized that learning the rituals of the Europeans would allow them to gain the secrets of cargo."

Ironically, they were not that far off, just that it wasn't the 'rituals'. I'm sure I wouldn't have figured it out either. Had they seen the Europeans manufacturing I'm sure they would have been able to pick it up fine.


Tink
Posted 19 February 2007 at 03:26 pm

Oh boy, Gerry, you have topped it all with this Damned Interesting article! It is too damned sad, too damned funny and just too. ROTFL&Cryin'.

Aint it amazing how the truley innocent minds in this world can be so exploited and come up with such clever (if albeit silly) solutions.

I agree with Frenchsnake, we should start dropping goodies to these folks right away. Send them food, cola, fuel, seeds and directions for re-growing crops.
Keep the religious tracks out of it, and let them see no human face to attach to the "gifts" from God. LOL.
We should celebrate the joy this would bring to them all and not taint the blessings with "organized" ideals.
God bless 'em, the little heathans.

This is tounge in cheek, don't beat me up please. :-)***


davida
Posted 19 February 2007 at 04:29 pm

I've always thought it ironic that humans are considered to be the most intelligent species, as we are the one's that are making this claim. If somehow you could speak "rabbit"...they would also think they are the most intelligent species, coyote, same deal, etc..etc. You wonder when or if someone will drop some "cargo" on us some day and change everything.


1c3d0g
Posted 19 February 2007 at 05:44 pm

cutterjohn: problem is, there's scientific evidence for BOTH camps, so that makes your comparison a *tad* more difficult. ;-)

Note: I've tried to word the sentence as neutral as I possibly can, but I'm only human.


Malregarbitation
Posted 19 February 2007 at 06:08 pm

This was bugging me, so I decided to grab the book and put it head-to-head with the article.

"Cows, Pigs, Wars, and Witches: The Riddles of Culture" by Marvin Harris, 1974.

vs.

"John Frum and the Cargo Cults" by Gerry Matlack, 2007.

------------------------

Dr. Marvin Harris, 1974:
One of the first Europeans to visit the Madang coast was a nineteenth-century Russian explorer named Miklouho-Maclay. As soon as the boat landed, his men began to dispense steel axes, bolts of cloth, and other valuables as gifts. (p. 119)

Gerry Matlack, 2007:
The origin of the earliest cargo cults in general can be traced back to 1871, when the Russian explorer Nikolai Miklouho-Maclay landed in Papua New Guinea bearing gifts of goods such as steel axe heads and bolts of cloth.

------------------------

Dr. Marvin Harris, 1974:
Anus gave Adam and Eve a paradise full of cargo: all the canned meats, steel tools, rice in bags, and matches they could use. When Adam and Eve discovered sex, Anus took the cargo away from them and sent the flood. (p. 119)

Gerry Matlack, 2007:
In New Guinea, one resulting version of Christianity described a god named Anus who delivered cargo of canned meat, steel tools, rice, and matches to Adam and Eve. When they discovered sex, Anus ejected them from Eden and struck them with a flood.

------------------------

Dr. Marvin Harris, 1974:
During 1968, a prophet on the island of New Hanover in the Bismarck Archipelago announced that the secret of cargo was known only to the President of the United States. Refusing to pay local taxes, the cult members saved $75,000 to "buy" Lyndon Johnson and to make him King of New Hanover if he would tell the secret. (p. 117)

Gerry Matlack, 2007:
On the Island of New Hanover in the Bismark Archipelago, another cargo cult arose in 1968 claiming that the true secret of cargo was known to only one man: President Lyndon Johnson. The natives of this island revolted against their Australian rulers, saved up $75,000, and sent a letter to Johnson offering to buy him and make him King of New Hanover. Strangely enough, he didn't accept.

------------------------

"Well written," indeed.


guy
Posted 19 February 2007 at 06:15 pm

this is very similar to the plot of the classic movie "the gods must be crazy" in which a group of tribal villagers see a coke can fall from the sky and the cult ensues.


Tink
Posted 19 February 2007 at 06:48 pm

Malregarbitation said: "This was bugging me, so I decided to grab the book and put it head-to-head with the article.


"Cows, Pigs, Wars, and Witches: The Riddles of Culture" by Marvin Harris, 1974.

vs.

"John Frum and the Cargo Cults" by Gerry Matlack, 2007...

"Well written," indeed."

Those of us who are long times fans of this site, enjoy the information provided, regardless of the original source.
We accept that "our" beloved writers get their information from obscure tomes and texts and using writers license, share the topics of interest with us, much to our delight; and while we comment and debate and share further knowledge with all, we DO NOT(Unwritten Rule) attempt to insult, degrade, or imply that our volenteer writers have provided any less than an shared educational /enjoyable piece of information.
So there, take your editorial and slam it somewhere else....you know like somewhere where someone else cares. 'pftttt' razzberrys to you.


Malregarbitation
Posted 19 February 2007 at 07:06 pm

Tink, I, too, am a fan of this site. It is not my intent to insult or inflame. However, there's a fine line between closely paraphrasing and plagiarism. You may disagree, but I believe Mr. Matlack has breached that border. I hope someone "cares" enough about the integrity of this website to make amends.


Malregarbitation
Posted 19 February 2007 at 07:13 pm

P.S. Marvin Harris was not obscure. He was a giant in his field.

http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&q=%22marvin+harris%22&btnG=Google+Search


Tink
Posted 19 February 2007 at 07:18 pm

I understand and accept your argument. Good point. I still think plagiarism is a strong word. Perhaps the writer would be be wise to follow your suggestion of including the book as one of his sources; if that is the case.

He could have found the information from yet another source, however, that did not mention the book either....hummm, I'm at a loss now.

Thank you for being nice in your response to me. I will quietly bow out out of this, and make a hasty and humbled retreat. LOL ;)
Peace


Malregarbitation
Posted 19 February 2007 at 08:22 pm

Thank you, Tink. No need to retreat!

The book is (or at least was) fairly well-known, as far as 'pop' anthropology books go. I've run across a few people who read it back in their college days. It tackles a variety of baffling cultural riddles, not just cargo cults. I recommend it highly.

My point is that Damn Interesting has a much-deserved reputation for excellence, and I don't want to see it compromised. I have no reason to believe Mr. Matlack is anything less than a great guy: I've enjoyed his previous articles, and have directed friends here to read them. I just think he made a mistake in this particular instance.

He cited the great Richard Feynmann (who has little connection with the article), yet managed to omit any reference to Marvin Harris, whose influence is felt throughout. I think it's an error in judgement, and one that should be rectified.


rev.felix
Posted 19 February 2007 at 08:26 pm

I wonder if there was pie in that cargo...


Malregarbitation
Posted 19 February 2007 at 08:31 pm

Make that "Feynman." I'm always doing that...


HiEv
Posted 19 February 2007 at 08:54 pm

Malregarbitation said: "This was bugging me, so I decided to grab the book and put it head-to-head with the article.


"Cows, Pigs, Wars, and Witches: The Riddles of Culture" by Marvin Harris, 1974.

vs.

"John Frum and the Cargo Cults" by Gerry Matlack, 2007."

Right, because Marvin Harris is the only possible source for what he wrote? Did you bother checking the sources he listed? For example...

Malregarbitation said: "Dr. Marvin Harris, 1974:

One of the first Europeans to visit the Madang coast was a nineteenth-century Russian explorer named Miklouho-Maclay. As soon as the boat landed, his men began to dispense steel axes, bolts of cloth, and other valuables as gifts. (p. 119)

Gerry Matlack, 2007:

The origin of the earliest cargo cults in general can be traced back to 1871, when the Russian explorer Nikolai Miklouho-Maclay landed in Papua New Guinea bearing gifts of goods such as steel axe heads and bolts of cloth. "

Yeah, and the source he listed as "Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy article" says:

"The first chronicled cargo cult sprung up on the Madang Coast of modern day Papua New Guinea almost immediately after the arrival of the 18th Century Russian explorer Miklouho-Maclay, who gave gifts of Western goods such as steel axes and bolts of cloth to the natives. As more Europeans arrived, so the belief in cargo spread through Melanesia."

Golly! Maybe he got the info from there instead! Oh, and it's called research, not plagiarism, if that was what was being implied.

Malregarbitation said: ""Well written," indeed."

If you're going to make accusations you might want to do a bit more research yourself.


Joshua
Posted 19 February 2007 at 09:18 pm

For the record, here are the Wikipedia entries on John Frum, cargo cults and cargo cult science.

At least these tribes' formative encounters with Western goods were positive experiences. I'm reminded of an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation in which the android Data unwittingly exposes a primitive alien village to a radioactive substance that makes them sick. The villagers are unaware of the substance but are aware that the illnesses started when Data first appeared, so they blame Data for making them sick, and eventually "kill" him. (He is later rescued by being beamed out of his grave.) How, I wonder, would these cargo cults have turned out if the bounty from the sky later turned out to be dangerous?


ConcernedCitizen
Posted 19 February 2007 at 09:31 pm

@Malregarbitation: do you even know what "plagiarism" means? that's a horrible thing to accuse someone of. those passages cite some of the same facts, but the wording is completely different. do you realize that this Marvin Harris person drew from other sources to write his book, almost certainly creating sentences similar to some of those in his source material? if two stories on the same subject didn't cite some of the same facts, THEN I'd be worried.


Malregarbitation
Posted 19 February 2007 at 09:33 pm

HiEv-

I took another look at the 'Hitchhiker's Guide' site, and did notice something I hadn't before: A mention of the Harris book at the end. The article is clearly based on his book as well.

"Golly! Maybe he got the info from there instead!"

It's not the use of information I had a problem with: It was the similarity of the wording that I questioned. The 'Hitchhikers' article does use Harris's information, and cites his book. Matlack's wording is very similar to Harris's, prompting me to believe he got it straight from the source.

At any rate, both articles are chock full of Marvin Harris: One cites him as the primary source, and the other doesn't mention him at all.

Should it emerge that the 'Hitchhikers' page was indeed the primary source, or the middleman between Harris and Matlack, does that make it better? Look at the bottom of this page: "All Rights Reserved. Each entry and comment is owned and copyrighted by its author." I'd be pretty uneasy claiming copyright and sole authorship of something I simply paraphrased, no matter the source. Wouldn't you?


Intellectual-Bonobo Hybrid.
Posted 19 February 2007 at 09:45 pm

Why "cult," and not "religion" or "faith?"


Malregarbitation
Posted 19 February 2007 at 09:57 pm

Do you even know what "plagiarism" means? that's a horrible thing to accuse someone of.

Yes, I do know what it means. If it's not, it's certainly flirting with it. To reiterate, there is a book from which a great deal of this derives. Beyond the presentation of the same ideas, the wording and descriptions are often very similar. The 'Hitchhikers' article gives Dr. Harris his due, and Mr. Matlack's does not.

There's talk of a DI book. If Mr. Matlack's article is in contention for this book, gets published, and is found to echo Dr. Harris a bit too closely (without citing his work), then "I got it off the internet" will not make much of a defense. I hold this site to a higher standard than that.


Gerry Matlack
Posted 19 February 2007 at 10:09 pm

Malregarbitation said: "Tink, I, too, am a fan of this site. It is not my intent to insult or inflame. However, there's a fine line between closely paraphrasing and plagiarism. You may disagree, but I believe Mr. Matlack has breached that border. I hope someone "cares" enough about the integrity of this website to make amends."

Given your use of the word "plagiarism," I don't think you're entirely clear on its meaning, but I hope you understand the gravity of that accusation against a writer. While I've never read the book you cite, it seems as though this Mr. Harris did a thorough retelling of these cargo cults' stories, enough that his book is used as a definitive reference these days, and variations of its passages appear in many places (including some of my sources). But we were telling the same story, he and I, so the facts we choose to include are bound to overlap. If you wish to pursue or discuss this further, contact me at gerry"at"damninteresting.com

Otherwise, if you follow the first link at the foot of the article (Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, BBC) when you find a factually similar account in the seventh paragraph to some of Dr. Harris' facts that you cited (although that account also includes Noah being made a steamboat captain in order to survive said flood), you would have to conlude that one of them is plagiarizing the other.


Malregarbitation
Posted 19 February 2007 at 10:35 pm

Gerry-

I'm a obviously a big fan of the Harris book. When I read your article, I thought I was reading passages directly from it. I grabbed the book and did indeed find many similarities in the pertinent chapter, as you've seen. I didn't, however, see the name Marvin Harris anywhere, which got up my ire.

As I stated above, I've enjoyed your recent articles here. However, I strongly felt this article had crossed a line, and I felt I should lodge a protest. Those similarities stand, but I believe you when you say the parallels were inadvertent. I apologize to you for having suggested otherwise.

The book is still in print and a worthy addition to your 'further reading' list.


Dr. Evil
Posted 19 February 2007 at 11:30 pm

I dont care if it was "plagarism" it is still a good article and if i could, i would shake your hand gerry...u r a legend :-D

Keep up the good work DI

WOOOOHOOOOOooo...


gopalan.evr
Posted 20 February 2007 at 12:14 am

J.K. said: "Seriously though that is an amazing write-up there. Shame how rotten missionaries tend to be historically forcing their rotten beliefs on people who were perfectly happy until that time. "

that reminds me of an old joke: a melanesian asked his missionary, "suppose you never came, and did not teach me about the original and subsequent sins, and i wallowed in sin, not knowing it to be sin, where would i end up? in hell?" the missionary thought it over, and replied, "no, you would be innocent of sin, i guess" whereupon the melanesian seized the missionary crying, "then why in the world did you teach me about sin?"


Joel Gibson
Posted 20 February 2007 at 03:12 am

First comment ever. Great article, and DI!


Taurus
Posted 20 February 2007 at 03:19 am

Malregarbitation said: I hope someone "cares" enough about the integrity of this website to make amends."

nope


Wolfie
Posted 20 February 2007 at 04:07 am

This is a Damn Interesting article, I love things like this that explain the birth of religions and cults. Put it like this I'd rather put my faith in a coke delivery falling out of the sky than a 2000 year old dead guy turning up out of the blue!!


etonalife
Posted 20 February 2007 at 04:19 am

DI yet again!! I want to put that map on the wall.

Joshua said: "How, I wonder, would these cargo cults have turned out if the bounty from the sky later turned out to be dangerous?"

Also, it's a wonder they didn't succumb to all of those diseases the soldiers were carrying around too.

On missionaries. Let's say another continent of people was discovered in the next year. Does anyone think we would be able to avoid the missionizing, and stop ourselves from telling those folks just what they can and can't do? Perhaps our emphasis on religion would have subsided to make way for etiquette and law. Ego is quite powerful.


Dublin
Posted 20 February 2007 at 04:27 am

Religion to these people is food falling from the sky, buildings erected over night and technology beyond anything they could imagine.

We have a burning bush and a 10 point self help guide written on two pieces of stone.

"oh and Just because you don't like a president that actually stands up for whats right instead of "people pleasing" like most close minded democrats"

Generalisations like that are about as close minded as it gets. I'm from Europe so I won't comment on US foreign policy (and how it always makes it into these comment threads) but I would refrain from suggesting that what is being perpetrated in Iraq is 'what's right' for anybody.


Dave Group
Posted 20 February 2007 at 07:08 am

There is paraphrasing and there is plagiarism. This article is not plagiarism. When I wrote a book on the Bermuda Triangle twenty years ago, I came across whole sentences and paragraphs that were repeated verbatim or nearly verbatim from book to book. Shows you what some writers call "research." On the other hand, when a topic is written about by numerous authors, there are only so many ways you can paraphrase information. I believe there was an episode of The Bob Newhart Show where Bob was accused of plagiarising a how-to book in which he dealt hilariously with this very same matter.


xojc
Posted 20 February 2007 at 07:30 am

I wonder if they've started a Jeff Probst cult yet. You just know that the Survivor crew had to have brought plenty of cargo with them.


FireDude
Posted 20 February 2007 at 07:46 am

It's so nice to read a heated debate that is not about politics, not that there weren't a few fish hooks planted early on. And in an article about religion no less.

Thanks for the link, elvis2/Patrick - I found the LBJ story really fascinating.

On the plagerism issue, I have a question: Does plagerism require intent? If I took notes on a book and wrote a paper the next day from those notes that happened to reconstruct an identical sentence unintentionally, would that be plagerism?


Wolfie
Posted 20 February 2007 at 08:16 am

Dublin said: "Religion to these people is food falling from the sky, buildings erected over night and technology beyond anything they could imagine.


We have a burning bush and a 10 point self help guide written on two pieces of stone."

Thats great I love it!!

Oh great spaghetti god please drop a Ferrari on my drive!!


senorstu
Posted 20 February 2007 at 09:40 am

Intellectual-Bonobo Hybrid. said: "Why "cult," and not "religion" or "faith?""

I thought this was an intriguing question, unfortunutately skipped over in favor of that lame plagarism thread. Maybe because it's a really hard question.

I would tend to label it a cult, since it seems they celebrate the rituals in hopes of material gain. But they have muddied the water a bit by merging John Frum with their volcano deity. Also, mainstream religious views tend to use the term "cult" to discredit or disparage other groups.

P.S. I cannot shake the image of a dude with coconut headphones in a bamboo air traffic control tower. "You have clearance, Clarence. " "Roger, Roger."


HiEv
Posted 20 February 2007 at 09:42 am

Malregarbitation said: "It's not the use of information I had a problem with: It was the similarity of the wording that I questioned."

Really? How many different ways are there to say, "1871, first white explorer to Papua New Guinea , Russian Nikolai Miklouho-Maclay, brought gifts including metal axes and cloth"? The quoted examples looked quite different to me, though they gave much the same information. Mr. Matlack even gave a specific date, which you will notice that neither of the other two sources did in the quoted sections. Heck, the "Hitchhikers" one lists the wrong century. That suggests research to me. NOT plagiarism.

Malregarbitation said: "The 'Hitchhikers' article does use Harris's information, and cites his book. Matlack's wording is very similar to Harris's, prompting me to believe he got it straight from the source."

An erroneous assumption that you should have discovered by checking the sources he gave before making such a nasty accusation.

Malregarbitation said: "At any rate, both articles are chock full of Marvin Harris: One cites him as the primary source, and the other doesn't mention him at all."

No, they're both chock full of information about cargo cults, and information on cargo cults does not come from Marvin Harris alone. For example, just because I mention some information that resembles something that you saw on CNN doesn't mean that I also got it from CNN. Maybe I got it from the BBC instead. However, that is precisely kind of the erroneous conclusion you jumped to here. The reason one lists Harris as a source while the other didn't is simply that only one used his book as a source.

Seriously, Matlack listed his other sources, why would he purposefully leave that one out and deny using it when he names other sources right up front? You haven't shown a single line directly lifted from Harris' work, merely some identical facts, so it wouldn't be to cover up plagiarism.

Malregarbitation said: "Should it emerge that the 'Hitchhikers' page was indeed the primary source, or the middleman between Harris and Matlack, does that make it better? Look at the bottom of this page: "All Rights Reserved. Each entry and comment is owned and copyrighted by its author." I'd be pretty uneasy claiming copyright and sole authorship of something I simply paraphrased, no matter the source. Wouldn't you?"

No. Facts are facts. Just because one source says something about a Russian explorer doesn't mean that they're the last or only source who gets to mention the guy. If Matlack had copied lines from another source you might have a case, but clearly he has done his best to present the information from various sources in his own words. Marvin Harris does not own a copyright on the facts in this matter, nor does anyone else, so Matlack has every right to present those same facts in his own words.

I think you've made a mountain out of a molehill here due to jumping to unfounded conclusions about sources and the use of a ridiculously broad definition of "plagiarism" that no court in the world would agree with. If I were you and I'd done that I'd be rather embarrassed and apologize to Mr. Matlack.


sulkykid
Posted 20 February 2007 at 09:53 am

another viewpoint said: "…LOOK…up in the sky…it's a bird, no it's a plane, no it's…


CLUTCH CARGO…and his pals Spinner and Paddlefoot!"

Unfortunately, most DI readers will not get Clutch Cargo jokes.

Intellectual-Bonobo Hybrid. said: "Why "cult," and not "religion" or "faith?""

Perhaps a dictionary will help, look under "C".


Kafka
Posted 20 February 2007 at 10:27 am

Do they still believe this sort of stuff? Hasn't anyone tapped them on the shoulder and explained it to them? And anyway, I don't think this is a cult. It's just one of the most bizarre religions I have ever heard of. The difference between cults and religions are not what they believe, it's how they act. Cults are harmful, secretive and induce paranoia on purpose to make money. I think that this cargo belief is nothing more than an interesting example of human behavior.

Also, don't laugh at them. It's possible that our ancestors were similarly delusional. Who's to say that if we didn't have any modern education, we would believe in similar things?

Somebody needs to help these people.


Taurus
Posted 20 February 2007 at 10:58 am

Kafka, answers are in order.

1. Yes apparently
2. Hasnt anyone tapped on your shoulder and explained about your messiah?
3.No, its a cult
4. yes it it is, but you should look up "spagetti and meatballism". Thats bizarre
5. Its also what they believe
6.Not all of them
7. Its nothing more than primitives trying to explain how and why things happen, for another example of this, see "The Bible".
8. I wasnt.
9. Ancestors?
10. who's to say we dont.(water into wine, coming back from the dead, etc)
11. Have you thought about becoming a missionary?


charlesthehammer
Posted 20 February 2007 at 11:31 am

Interesting article. As I was reading this, I got the nagging feeling I had just heard about this situation. The BBC world website did a report on this two days before this article was posted. They take a slightly different road to developing the John Frum character though, explaining the name by the fact that most GI's introduced themselves as "John from America":

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/6370991.stm


charlesthehammer
Posted 20 February 2007 at 11:42 am

Here too, four days before the article. I knew I had seen this somwhere else: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/6363843.stm

That image of the guy talking into coconut radios with bamboo antennas sounds like something the professor would have come up with in Gilligan's Island.


charlesthehammer
Posted 20 February 2007 at 11:44 am

Techno-Kid
Posted 20 February 2007 at 12:16 pm

Taurus, I find most of your comments to be fairly useless. Please try not to take that as a personal dig; you should offer up more substance if you decide to post something and present it more clearly. Your current trend of brief, snarky, "matter-of-fact" replies do nothing to assist the discussion.

On topic, I would tend to agree that these peoples exhibit cult behaviors (although I am no expert on defining such things). From a layman's point of view I see these people's beliefs as a very pulp, spur of the moment interpretation of real events that shrouds common sense with mysticism. That implies a cult to me. Although I myself am not religious in any real way I view established religions as possessing more history or "source material." For me that makes the difference.


prune
Posted 20 February 2007 at 01:47 pm

(1) Plagiarism consists of taking the unique ideas and/or words of another, and submitting them as your own. Intent is generally derived from the deed, although interpretation varies from one jurisdiction to another.

(2) In case anyone is interested, the book "Dream Park" by Niven, Pournelle, and Barnes, sets its first adventure in the South Seas Cargo Cults. They have a summary and several references in the back of the book. The genre is Science fiction, fantasy-role-playing, murder mystery (yes, all three). If you happen to like "Dream Park", there are two more books in the series. The second uses a composite of arctic beliefs; the third is based on the voodoo / santiera family ... and they're all SF murder mysteries!


TimWhit
Posted 20 February 2007 at 02:25 pm

This all reminds me of something you all have probably read before but seems apt in this thread:

Definition of a cult: A small unpopular religion.

Definition of a religion: A large popular cult.

Any comments?


wh44
Posted 20 February 2007 at 05:03 pm

DI article!

My two cents on the "plagiarism": it ain't. The wording isn't even close - just the same facts.

Canadian_Nate said: (as well as money being lost on a large scale in Iraq, not being made by corporations)

Whether or not it is justified, it is well documented that Halliburton and other military suppliers are making a considerable profit.


Malregarbitation
Posted 20 February 2007 at 05:46 pm

HiEv-

I had what I felt to be a valid concern, and I voiced that concern. Mr. Matlack stepped up and explained the situation from his perspective, and even added a link to the book in question. He comported himself as a gentleman, and I thank him for that.

HiEv said: If I were you and I'd done that I'd be rather embarrassed and apologize to Mr. Matlack.

As I've already said to Mr. Matlack:

I believe you when you say the parallels were inadvertent. I apologize to you for having suggested otherwise.

I also regret having made a public matter out of an issue best suited to a private email.


Pigred
Posted 21 February 2007 at 12:23 am

I loved this article! Tanna island was a scheduled stopover on a cruise I went on many years ago. Due to bad weather, I missed out on getting there. Being naive, my friends and I thought the most interesting thing was not culture or the island, but whether the inhabitants had *really* given up 'cannibalism' (or would Australians be seen as tasty).


HiEv
Posted 21 February 2007 at 02:03 am

Techno-Kid said: "Taurus, I find most of your comments to be fairly useless. Please try not to take that as a personal dig; you should offer up more substance if you decide to post something and present it more clearly. Your current trend of brief, snarky, "matter-of-fact" replies do nothing to assist the discussion."

I disagree. I found his response to Kafka, for example, both insightful and amusing. Just because you personally don't like them, you shouldn't assume that your opinion of them is universal or even widespread.


ren74
Posted 21 February 2007 at 05:24 am

charlesthehammer said: "Interesting article. As I was reading this, I got the nagging feeling I had just heard about this situation. The BBC world website did a report on this two days before this article was posted. They take a slightly different road to developing the John Frum character though, explaining the name by the fact that most GI's introduced themselves as "John from America":

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/6370991.stm"

Thank you! I was having a Baader-Meinhof moment and i couldnt remember where i'd read about it before! Still DI though!


DI Doe
Posted 21 February 2007 at 06:07 am

The cult, religion, whatever you want to call it; is being reinforced by tourists who have heard about the origins of the cult, who visit and bring Cargo in the form of money, gifts, etc. I also have heard the 'John from America' version, which might explain via media coverage why most of these tourists are American.

This is a lovely example of the kind of cause-and-effect thinking that humans are so good (and bad) at.


thebigragoo22
Posted 21 February 2007 at 07:35 am

Jimmy Buffett makes mention of this in is book "A Salty Piece of Land"


inmyopinion
Posted 21 February 2007 at 09:03 am

Yup humans always liked to imitate those that seemed more succesfull. 2000 years ago, when I was incarnated as an alien visiting Earth, the humans ALWAYS tried to imitate me. Monkey see monkey do right?

Sorry for Christianity btw :_


ElderGias
Posted 21 February 2007 at 09:03 am

"If you question a local about their beliefs, they will most likely reply that you have been waiting for your messiah to return for over 2000 years – while they have been waiting for only 70."

Okay, thats fine, but we can objectively prove that "cargo" is made by people, transported by people, and dropped by people from the sky. Show me some objective proof of a non-divine way to raise people from the dead, walk on water, and instantly multiply bread and fish 2000 years ago and I will critically review my beliefs.


SteveinFinland
Posted 21 February 2007 at 09:27 am

None so blind as those who will not see, eh, ElderGias?


inmyopinion
Posted 21 February 2007 at 10:23 am

ElderGias said: "Show me some objective proof of a non-divine way to raise people from the dead, walk on water, and instantly multiply bread and fish 2000 years ago and I will critically review my beliefs."

The correct way to do this is if you first show objective proof that someone got raised from the dead, walked on water and multiplied bread and fish. Other than quoting from a very old and mistranslated book, that is.


Misfit
Posted 21 February 2007 at 12:02 pm

I'm just glad that that little spout over what's going on in Iraq was able to be stifled quickly and easily.

Over the plagiarism debate...

Plagiarism is bad... and coincidences can happen. Why don't we just leave it at that?


Misfit
Posted 21 February 2007 at 12:03 pm

Over the plagiarism debate...

Plagiarism is bad... and coincidences can happen. Why don't we just leave it at that?


Misfit
Posted 21 February 2007 at 12:04 pm

wow! didn't know THAT could happen


ElderGias
Posted 21 February 2007 at 12:28 pm

SteveinFinland said: "None so blind as those who will not see, eh, ElderGias?"

inmyopinion said: "The correct way to do this is if you first show objective proof that someone got raised from the dead, walked on water and multiplied bread and fish. Other than quoting from a very old and mistranslated book, that is."

I'm fine with people having radical (self-consistent) religious beliefs that are neither provable nor disprovable. But if a belief is disprovable, for a person to be rationale and reasonable, they must concede they were wrong in their original belief and either reject it or amend it. Someone once said, "The definition of an intellectual is a person who can change their beliefs in the light of evidence." The burden on proof is not on the religion, as I said we can objectively prove to these islanders how "cargo" works, not that they need to prove their religion is right. The burden of proof lies on the attacker of the belief, not the defender. If someone could honestly prove to me my religious beliefs were conclusively wrong, I would reconsider them and change my beliefs. Religion is not the rejection of logic, it is the belief that there is no logical explanation for certain things. To wholly reject logic is to live in ignorance willfully, which in my view is the height of stupidity. I don't think that (most of) these islanders have been shown the proof that "cargo" is man-made and transported, but if some of them have been and they just decide to ignore that evidence then they should be looked down upon for (not disbelieving, but) choosing not accept the truth, knowingly.


ElderGias
Posted 21 February 2007 at 12:36 pm

inmyopinion said: "The correct way to do this is if you first show objective proof that someone got raised from the dead, walked on water and multiplied bread and fish. Other than quoting from a very old and mistranslated book, that is."

Also, it may be the case that Christianity is a series of mistranslated beliefs blown out of proportion over 2000 years, so wouldn't it be better to keep the same thing from happening to these people and show them the truth now, 70 years after the incident so they don't live with wrong religious beliefs for the next 1930 years, in which time they would be exaggerated greatly?


araeo
Posted 21 February 2007 at 01:35 pm

cutterjohn said: "I imagine they have, and i imagine the effect is similar to a scientist explaining evolution to a devout Christian. You can offer all the evidence in the world, but if it runs contrary to what a person *knows* in his heart is true, chances are it will be dismissed."

1c3d0g said: "cutterjohn: problem is, there's scientific evidence for BOTH camps, so that makes your comparison a *tad* more difficult. ;-)

Note: I've tried to word the sentence as neutral as I possibly can, but I'm only human."

REALLY??!?!? Then why can't all the UN-"intelligent design" folks get their "theory" taught in classrooms? I noticed that you didn't bother to do us the favor of illustrating this "scientific evidence" that supports the religious myth of creation... Maybe because this so-called proof doesn't exist? You shouldn't be using a book that can, at best, be categorized as "historical fiction" as a scientific source. If it's not testable, it's not science!

"When one person suffers from a delusion, it's called insanity. When many people suffer from a delusion, it's called religion..." - Robert M. Pirsig


inmyopinion
Posted 21 February 2007 at 02:15 pm

ElderGias said: "Also, it may be the case that Christianity is a series of mistranslated beliefs blown out of proportion over 2000 years, so wouldn't it be better to keep the same thing from happening to these people and show them the truth now, 70 years after the incident so they don't live with wrong religious beliefs for the next 1930 years, in which time they would be exaggerated greatly?"

For the same reason you just mentioned in the other post: you believe divine intervention makes logic redundant and that some things cant be explained. Like, why everything points to a very old Earth, for instance. Or why the bible God would let people be born when he knows that they will grow up as non-Christians and burn 4 ever by default.

You can tell those cargo-ians all the facts and alternative explanations. All they will reply with is that nothing is impossible for supernatural things like Cargo, and that nobody in the world can proof something for which logic doesnt apply. What are you going to answer to that?

More logic? More facts?


inmyopinion
Posted 21 February 2007 at 02:18 pm

Oh oh :( Should be 'prove' instead of 'proof'. Darn foreign language.


SparkyTWP
Posted 21 February 2007 at 02:52 pm

The burden on proof is not on the religion, as I said we can objectively prove to these islanders how "cargo" works, not that they need to prove their religion is right. The burden of proof lies on the attacker of the belief, not the defender.

From a scientific and logical point of view, this is false. If you come up with an idea or statement, it is your job to prove it, not the other's job to disprove it.

For example, let's say that I think that Jupiter's core is made of marshmellows and puppy dogs. Can you disprove that? How? Wouldn't you expect me to try to prove why I think that, rather than you trying to disprove it? New ideas in science are always on the defensive. They have to be, that's how progress is made.

Regardless, religion is not testable by scientific methods. That's why it's religion and not science.


Bolens
Posted 21 February 2007 at 03:04 pm

Those convinced against their will are of the same opinion still.


blenderhead
Posted 21 February 2007 at 07:16 pm

Thats damned interesting, as well as humorous.


ElderGias
Posted 22 February 2007 at 07:42 am

inmyopinion said: "For the same reason you just mentioned in the other post: you believe divine intervention makes logic redundant and that some things cant be explained. Like, why everything points to a very old Earth, for instance. Or why the bible God would let people be born when he knows that they will grow up as non-Christians and burn 4 ever by default.

You can tell those cargo-ians all the facts and alternative explanations. All they will reply with is that nothing is impossible for supernatural things like Cargo, and that nobody in the world can proof something for which logic doesnt apply. What are you going to answer to that?

More logic? More facts?"

If you are asking how I can reason with an unreasonable person, you are correct in that I cannot. However, just because someone is religious does not mean they are illogical. I think you misunderstood my point about religion's relationship to logic. Religion does not reject logic, religion tries to fill in the gaps where people see no logical explanation. If you give a logical explanation to fill the hole where religion once filled, rational people should be able to be swayed by sufficient logic (though it might be more difficult the longer religion was used to fill that hole). If a person rejects logic and rationale, I cannot force them to except it, but those are not the type of people I consider intelligent or care to debate with.


ElderGias
Posted 22 February 2007 at 07:49 am

SparkyTWP said: "From a scientific and logical point of view, this is false. If you come up with an idea or statement, it is your job to prove it, not the other's job to disprove it.

For example, let's say that I think that Jupiter's core is made of marshmellows and puppy dogs. Can you disprove that? How? Wouldn't you expect me to try to prove why I think that, rather than you trying to disprove it? New ideas in science are always on the defensive. They have to be, that's how progress is made.

Regardless, religion is not testable by scientific methods. That's why it's religion and not science."

You are absolutely correct, from the scientific standpoint the burden of proof is on the defender of the belief. However, as many people (myself included) are so fond of pointing out, religion is a far cry from science, no matter how much creationists may protest otherwise. The (very quick and dumbed down) scientific process is: hypothesis, design a test, run the test, compare results with hypothesis, revise hypothesis when necessary, repeat. You start with uncertainty and work towards certainty. With religion, it is the other way around. You start with certainty. If you are certain, there is no need for you to test your beliefs (unless you prize truth highly), so unless someone is able to come along, give an alternate hypothesis and prove it you have no reason to run your own test. Very unscientific, but religion isn't science (no, not even Christian Science).


ElderGias
Posted 22 February 2007 at 08:06 am

inmyopinion said: "For the same reason you just mentioned in the other post: you believe divine intervention makes logic redundant and that some things cant be explained. Like, why everything points to a very old Earth, for instance. Or why the bible God would let people be born when he knows that they will grow up as non-Christians and burn 4 ever by default.

You can tell those cargo-ians all the facts and alternative explanations. All they will reply with is that nothing is impossible for supernatural things like Cargo, and that nobody in the world can proof something for which logic doesnt apply. What are you going to answer to that?

More logic? More facts?"

BTW, a good example just came to mind. I am a very religious Christian (when I say very religious, I mean that I have very strong beliefs that I have put my faith in). I am also a philosopher and prize truth very highly. My role as a truth seeking philosopher means that I must question everything in my attempt to arrive at the truth. Why should my religious beliefs be any different? Just because I hold something to be true does not make it so. When young I was told AC power could not kill a person, so I believed this for a long time. One day a friend discovered I had this belief and we talked with a robotics professor of computer science. I was shown (not literally) how AC power could kill people.

Similarly, I believe in the parting of the Red Sea from the Bible, however new evidence has come to light that around the same time this event was supposed to have happened, a small Greek island with a Volcano exploded so violently that the island broke in half, and tidal waves were formed. Given there is a dune in the Red Sea that is 20 feet (I believe) below the water, this explosion could have pulled enough of the Red Sea back to expose the dune allowing people to cross. This is a logical and rational explanation for something that was explained via religious beliefs. I am leaning toward the exploding island explanation as it is logical, but to be sure I would need to see more of the research done on this. Hey, God could have caused the island to blow up and move the water.

I'm not saying that we can prove to the islanders that John Frum is not real, or anything of the sort. But they believe that Cargo is not made by living people and that it is not dropped from planes, but dropped by their ancestors. We can objectively prove this is not the case. If they want to change their beliefs in light of that evidence to say that their ancestors are influencing the living to drop the cargo, there is no way to disprove that, so at least we would not know they are objectively wrong.

Isn't it better to fix a misconception early and cause some embarrassment rather than let it go on for hundreds of years and eventually be accepted as the truth, with no way of disproving it at that point? Isn't truth good?


Stepheng
Posted 22 February 2007 at 01:11 pm

I felt sure that you were going to mention the book "Guns, Germs, and Steel" in this article.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guns,_Germs,_and_Steel

"The prologue to the book opens with an account of Diamond's conversation with Yali, a New Guinean politician. The conversation turned to the obvious differences in power and technology between Yali's people and the Europeans who dominated the land for 200 years, differences that neither of them considered due to any superiority of Europeans. Yali asked, using the local term "cargo" for inventions and manufactured goods, "Why is it that you white people have so much cargo, and we New Guineans have so little?"

"Guns, Germs, and Steel" is Diamond's answer to Yali's question.


vonmeth
Posted 22 February 2007 at 01:34 pm

Just look at scientology. The man is known to have said that if a person wanted to be rich, all they simply had to do was create a religion. And low and behold, he creates one, yet people still believe it.

People want easy answers and lives, and the unknown answered, and magic to exist so badly that they conform to almost anything if they are ignorant or conditioned enough.

It reminds me of a quote from Douglas Adams.

"A man didn’t understand how televisions work, and was convinced that there must be lots of little men inside the box, manipulating images at high speed. An engineer explained to him about high frequency modulations of the electromagnetic spectrum, about transmitters and receivers, about amplifiers and cathode ray tubes, about scan lines moving across and down a phosphorescent screen. The man listened to the engineer with careful attention, nodding his head at every step of the argument. At the end he pronounced himself satisfied. He really did now understand how televisions work. "But I expect there are just a few little men in there, aren’t there?"
-- Douglas Adams, a parable spoofing modern creationism that Adams often told, as retold by Richard Dawkins in "Lament for Douglas" (14 May 2001)


shanachie
Posted 22 February 2007 at 02:35 pm

"The men and women of the island had theorized that learning the rituals of the Europeans would allow them to gain the secrets of cargo."

Ironically, they were not that far off, just that it wasn't the 'rituals'. I'm sure I wouldn't have figured it out either. Had they seen the Europeans manufacturing I'm sure they would have been able to pick it up fine.

Wasn't it Asimov who wrote "Any technology, sufficiently advanced, is indistinguishable from magic." (Possibly misquoted; hopefully not indistinguishable from plagiarism. {g})


Mellieblu
Posted 22 February 2007 at 05:30 pm

Loved this article. It makes me want to write a short story about unrealistic beliefs and how they can be so bizarre but if, at the end of the day, they get you by, what's the damage?

Had to say I'm disappointed by the Dem vs. Rep crap. I'm a Democrat and I agree with arneberg and I don't see how it could be so insulting to Canadian Nate. Besides CANADIAN Nate - why the heck do you care anyway???


xcretor
Posted 23 February 2007 at 12:02 pm

I think it is a bit unfair to judge the legitamacy of the Hiroshima / Nagasaki bombings from this vantage of history. If you can use your imagination to assume the responsibility, knowledge and experience of President Truman at that point in history, I don't know how anyone could have made a different choice. Also considering the American public opinion on this subject at that point in time, one might say that as elected official he had an obligation to choose the path that he did.


xcretor
Posted 23 February 2007 at 12:06 pm

Sorry wrong article.


Silverhill
Posted 23 February 2007 at 04:39 pm

shanachie said: "Wasn't it Asimov who wrote "Any technology, sufficiently advanced, is indistinguishable from magic." (Possibly misquoted; hopefully not indistinguishable from plagiarism. {g})"

Sir Arthur Clarke it was; it's the third of his "Three Laws": "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."


fvngvs
Posted 23 February 2007 at 07:22 pm

DI article Gerry. Thanks.

This one has everything: fulminous argument over plagiarism, the picking of nits over the (mis)use of the word 'cult', and a minimum of political cant. Who could possibly ask for more?


bostongraf
Posted 26 February 2007 at 12:36 pm

ElderGias said: "You are absolutely correct, from the scientific standpoint the burden of proof is on the defender of the belief. However, as many people (myself included) are so fond of pointing out, religion is a far cry from science, no matter how much creationists may protest otherwise. The (very quick and dumbed down) scientific process is: hypothesis, design a test, run the test, compare results with hypothesis, revise hypothesis when necessary, repeat. You start with uncertainty and work towards certainty. With religion, it is the other way around. You start with certainty. If you are certain, there is no need for you to test your beliefs (unless you prize truth highly), so unless someone is able to come along, give an alternate hypothesis and prove it you have no reason to run your own test. Very unscientific, but religion isn't science (no, not even Christian Science)."

Religion is not science (obviously), but it is philosophy. A form of it anyway.

For a philosophical stance to be meritous, it must be presented in a logical fashion. The problem that all philsophical proofs of god run into is that there is a base presumption. That base presumption is generally one of two things:

a) The bible is infallable.
b) God exists.

For every proof that I have seen, these unprovable assumptions must be accepted. This means that the proofs are invalid.

So, yes, religion is not subject to the same criteria as science. But it is subject to the same criteria as philosophy. And it does not work in a philosophical argument either.

With regards to the burden of proof, those who do not have a belief in gods do not make any claims. Therefore, there is no burden of proof. Those holding onto a belief in gods are making claims, and the burden of proof must lie with those making the claims. Especially when the claims require a suspension of physics, chemistry, biology, logic, and rational thought.


Bolens
Posted 27 February 2007 at 06:09 am

bostongraf said: "Especially when the claims require a suspension of physics, chemistry, biology, logic, and rational thought."

What has the growing evidences of biological science, logic and rational thought done to protect the unborn?
Where are all the missing links to prove evolution as fact?
"Rational thought" is a subjective term; it is defined by and comes from one's own chosen lifestyle.

Don't kid yourself.

Despite the best efforts of those of faith, and those who choose to disbelieve in intelligent design, and it does affect the application of hard sciences like physics, chemistry, biology.


iq_two
Posted 27 February 2007 at 08:23 am

It's nice to see the science vs. religious debate with the debaters being actually intelligent people, on both sides. Usually when I hear it it's just "the bible said so" vs. "well, that's not possible". Personally, I'm agnostic, and I think that religion is not science, but that doesn't neccessarily mean it's not true. Very interesting issue about the burden of proof though. There's not really any standard as to who has the burden of proof in a debate like this. It's not like it's a trial with a specific rule saying the burden of proof lies with the prosecutor. However, I have to say that if, to use SparkyTWP's example, someone wanted to believe that Jupiter's moon was made of marshmallows and puppies, that would be their belief and although it would make them look like a fool, the attacker of the belief would have to disprove it. However, if whoever believed it wanted others to believe it as well, they would heave to prove it. Hypothetically, of course, since actually you could probably convince a whole lot of people to worship Jupiter's moon in the hope of getting puppies and marshmallows.


ElderGias
Posted 28 February 2007 at 06:31 pm

iq_two said: "It's nice to see the science vs. religious debate with the debaters being actually intelligent people, on both sides. Usually when I hear it it's just "the bible said so" vs. "well, that's not possible". Personally, I'm agnostic, and I think that religion is not science, but that doesn't neccessarily mean it's not true. Very interesting issue about the burden of proof though. There's not really any standard as to who has the burden of proof in a debate like this. It's not like it's a trial with a specific rule saying the burden of proof lies with the prosecutor. However, I have to say that if, to use SparkyTWP's example, someone wanted to believe that Jupiter's moon was made of marshmallows and puppies, that would be their belief and although it would make them look like a fool, the attacker of the belief would have to disprove it. However, if whoever believed it wanted others to believe it as well, they would heave to prove it. Hypothetically, of course, since actually you could probably convince a whole lot of people to worship Jupiter's moon in the hope of getting puppies and marshmallows."

I agree with you, and what you wrote made me realize, that the burden of proof lies with the person who is actually trying to prove something. If I am telling someone that Jupiter's moon is not filled with puppies and marshmallows, the burden of proof is on me because I am trying to prove something. Conversely, if the person who believes it is filled with puppies and Marshmallows ties to prove it, the burden of proof is on them because they are trying to prove it. If we are trying to prove it to each other, both of us have the burden of proof. Why would someone not trying to prove anything need proof? They wouldn't care to have any because it is of no need to them. For example, I believe my parents love me and I have seen proof of it. I don't care if no one else believes it to be true. Since I am not trying to prove it to them I do not need to have any proof on hand of that love. Though, person would need proof to prove it to themselves, if they were logical.


ExperimentNo6
Posted 01 March 2007 at 01:07 am

I love the idea of a puppy-and-marshmallow-filled Jupiter.


animal
Posted 01 March 2007 at 05:32 am

A villager walks up to me and tells me of his cargo religion. I scoff and tell him that it was a construct some western soldiers made and then had dropped on his island for their own purpose.

He looks at me as if I'm crazy.

As proof I construct my own cache, I have him wait on the beach while I airlift it and I have it dropped close to him. I return but somehow he doesn't seem convinced of the falsehood of his religion. After all, he saw me create this cache wheras the previous ones were all mystical gifts from God, all of which had no human hand in their creation.

So in turn I tell him of the Red Sea, how the water parted and good men and women escaped to safety. He clearly enjoys the story but then he takes me to a pond, drops a log in the water and walks across. He grins and tells me he must be a saint then to walk across the water.

Don't tell him, but I think he's crazy.


ElderGias
Posted 01 March 2007 at 10:10 am

animal said: "A villager walks up to me and tells me of his cargo religion. I scoff and tell him that it was a construct some western soldiers made and then had dropped on his island for their own purpose.

He looks at me as if I'm crazy.

As proof I construct my own cache, I have him wait on the beach while I airlift it and I have it dropped close to him. I return but somehow he doesn't seem convinced of the falsehood of his religion. After all, he saw me create this cache wheras the previous ones were all mystical gifts from God, all of which had no human hand in their creation.

So in turn I tell him of the Red Sea, how the water parted and good men and women escaped to safety. He clearly enjoys the story but then he takes me to a pond, drops a log in the water and walks across. He grins and tells me he must be a saint then to walk across the water.

Don't tell him, but I think he's crazy."

Your analogy is flawed, the physical circumstances are different. The islander believes cargo is from the gods because he can conceive of no means by which man could make something fall from the sky. Show him how something can fall from the sky and he must either re-evaluate his belief or choose to live with clouded knowledge of the world. Take the physical circumstances of the parting of the red sea: the water separated revealing the sea bed below allowing people to walk across. Show a believer in the parting of the red sea a way that man can expose the sea bed and keep the water on both sides of him from rejoining and either re-evaluate his belief or choose to live with clouded knowledge of the world. As I said in one of my earlier posts, a scientific solution has come to light, which has caused me to re-evaluate my belief. So why can't I ask the islander to do the same?


ElderGias
Posted 01 March 2007 at 11:20 am

animal said: "A villager walks up to me and tells me of his cargo religion. I scoff and tell him that it was a construct some western soldiers made and then had dropped on his island for their own purpose.

He looks at me as if I'm crazy.

As proof I construct my own cache, I have him wait on the beach while I airlift it and I have it dropped close to him. I return but somehow he doesn't seem convinced of the falsehood of his religion. After all, he saw me create this cache wheras the previous ones were all mystical gifts from God, all of which had no human hand in their creation.

So in turn I tell him of the Red Sea, how the water parted and good men and women escaped to safety. He clearly enjoys the story but then he takes me to a pond, drops a log in the water and walks across. He grins and tells me he must be a saint then to walk across the water.

Don't tell him, but I think he's crazy."

Furthermore, two ramifications of your example, if it were to be the way the world worked. Suppose you have a child and your child is taking math in school. You are helping your child with his math homework when you ask him, "what is 2+2?" He responds with "5". You say, "No that is not right, it is 4. See?" He says, "No, it is 5." You say, "How does 2+2 = 5?" He responds, "God did it." From what you are saying in your example, you should never correct your child on this. Who are you to correct them? What if this same situation is extended to every facet of your child's life? They call you their uncle, though you are their parent. They say that "cat" is spelled "Gr9xw". You can't correct them, who are you to correct them?

That seems pretty crazy.

Another example that came to mind would be: Lets say you are a stage magician. You bring me up and say I am going to perform a trick for you. It will be fake, just a slight of hand, not real magic. You then perform your trick and I say, "Wow, you can do real magic!" You say, "No, it was just a trick, not real. Here, let me show you exactly how I did it." You take an hour and teach me the trick perfectly, I can do it flawlessly. Now you turn back to me and say, 'So now you see? The trick I did before was not magic, it was illusion, just as you can do now." I say, "No, the trick you did before was real magic not an illusion. However after you did the real magic, you showed me how to do a fake trick that produced exactly the same results. I believe you really can do magic, you are either wrong about your abilities or lying." What would you think of me at that point? I would think of a person in that situation as stupid, as I showed them exactly how to replicate the same exact effect and that the method appears exactly the same, and they agreed, however they still choose to believe that which is not supported by the evidence they are clearly faced with. However, it seems that from your example you would be forced to say that that person has a valid point and not continue with the matter.

With my example of you having a child, you have a responsibility to educate your child and teach them the truth, don't you? I Believe that parents have that responsibility. I also believe that humans have a responsibility to do what is right by one another. If I borrow money from a friend, I have a responsibility to pay them back. I have a responsibility not to kill my fellow man. The well being of my species is in my best interest, and I have a responsibility to maintain it. Is it better or worse for people to have an incorrect view of the truth? If someone is driving down a road and the bridge is destroyed, is it better or worse that he knows the bridge is destroyed. If it is destroyed and he thinks it is not, shouldn't I correct his mistake for his own betterment, and thus the betterment of mankind as a whole? Isn't truth better than falsehood?

Tell me: If I am color blind to red and green and there are two balls in front of me; one is red the other is blue. Now, my best friend comes along and swears to me that the ball I can't tell the color of is actually green. I believe him because I trust his word (even though he is wrong or lying in this instance). Now another person comes into the room who is color blind to blue and purple, and his best friend just told him that the ball he couldn't tell the color of was purple. I tell him the new person that one of the balls is blue, he says I am wrong and goes on to say that one of the balls is red, I say he is wrong. Just because I am wrong on the color of one of the balls does not mean I am wrong on the color of the other ball. Furthermore, am I wrong to try to tell this new person the truth when I can clearly see that they are wrong?

I may or may not be wrong about my belief of the way the world is, but if I see another person who clearly has a wrong belief about the way the world is I feel obligated to correct their falsehood, as it is the right thing to do. How can it be wrong of me to try to give that person the truth?


ElderGias
Posted 01 March 2007 at 12:54 pm

http://www.cnn.com/2007/TECH/space/02/28/new.horizons.jupiter.reut/index.html

Well, we just got our first close up shots of Jupiter today. No puppies or marshmallows in site.


shrub
Posted 27 August 2007 at 07:47 am

My first post.

DI, but did anybody read the fine print on the Vanuatu map?


sd9sd
Posted 06 December 2007 at 08:33 am

Very very damn interesting indeed!
Shows how our religions might've begun. The power that a common belief can have is amazing! Wonderful way to exploit a bunch of people.
For all of you who are waiting for your respective God's to return to earth, this article should tell you a lot.
Would be best to leave those guys alone...they've formed a culture for themselves just as we had formed one for ourselves. What if one of us had been born there? We'd have been posting comments in favour of the John Frum theory.
And hey, isn't this similar to the ancient people of Machu Picchu (allegedly) constructing runways for the aliens to land?


douqep
Posted 04 February 2008 at 11:06 am

It's surprising to me that most commenters make a distinction between "cult" and "religion". In my mind there is no difference. Tanna people believe that a god will appear from a volcano, vanquish all evil, and lead the virtuous to a heavenly existence. This to me is exactly what Christianity tells us.


troyboy
Posted 13 August 2008 at 12:24 am

geez missionaries were a bunch of mongrels.

good luck to all the "god botherers" :-) I'm just happy accepting the fact that when I die there will be nothing...zip....nada. doesn't really bother me. I'm happy to live my life the way I want without any interference from do gooders. I'm sure the Vanuatans (?) felt the same way .

great article :-D


Nativity
Posted 09 September 2008 at 01:45 am

It’s Damn Interesting - how ancient cultures are worshipping present persons! But it’s also damn sad in a way.

As a very interested person in Myths and Ancient cultures in general, I often feel that the telling of the Myths, have lost some of it’s original meaning. This is, of course, is very understandable regarding modern human beings, but very often I feel that even present Native people also have forgotten something of the original meaning themselves.

- In the case of Native peoples worshipping white-skin-present-persons, I’m sure the Natives are really wrong because they have forgotten some very important detail of their Mythology, and especially the part that deals with the Story of Creation, which, in my opinion, is very close connected to our Milky Way Galaxy and its white contours.

The Milky Way contours have been symbolized in ancient Cultures with a lots of both human and animal figures – and ALWAYS in connection with WHITE colour description of human or animal beings – and even as anthropomorphic beings.

It would be Damn fine if both the modern and the Native People once again could get hold of the original meanings of the Myths, because the ancient telling bares witness to a GREAT intuitive understanding of the Cosmos in which we live.

In my opinion, modern science has not yet reached the same level of holistic understanding of cosmos that many ancient cultures originally had/have.

OK.
Further information’s here:
http://www.native-science.net/
http://www.cosmology-unified.net/

I hope You find them Damn Interesting!


BenKinsey
Posted 02 December 2008 at 12:27 pm

J.K. said: ""…Anus ejected them from Eden and struck them with a flood."

Would that make the colon eden then? :)

Seriously though that is an amazing write-up there. Shame how rotten missionaries tend to be historically forcing their rotten beliefs on people who were perfectly happy until that time. It's damn interesting to see how that forced warping of reality then can backpeddle into a kind of learning by example in a positive way to form an odd 'cargo cult' religion. They seem happy with it for sure, so why not? And as they said they've waited 70 years so far, and those who tried to ruin their lifestyle have waited for 2000, so who is to judge?"

riqie arneberg said: "Has anyone tried to explain to the "true believers" that the Iraq war is about corporate profits? Bush fans "know" it is all about "fighting terrorism"."

You guys made me laugh so I thought I'd say thanks


Gerry Matlack
Posted 28 December 2008 at 12:33 pm

I was tickled when I saw this online today... http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1skNgYdJXK8&feature=channel_page

Apparently, Richard Dawkins (or at least one of his production staff) is a DI reader - the second map in the video is unique to this site. (or he got it from someone who "borrowed" it from here)


John Frum
Posted 04 January 2009 at 09:19 pm

I am reading a book written by John Rush and Abbe Anderson called 'The Man with the Bird on his Head'.
Anyone interested in following up the comments of the John Frum stuff from above would be very interested in the up to date book by some one who went there in 1991.
ISBN is 1-57658-005-9 Published by YWAM Publishing in 1997


stholas
Posted 08 January 2009 at 01:16 pm

Einstein was way more spiritual and religious than the 'good book' requires you to be. That alone is enough to reject the goofy book, or for that matter, any other enlightening text out there.

(This message has been sponsored by the cult of cult hating true believers of science and worshippers of the Theory of Relativity)


ThomasD
Posted 12 February 2009 at 09:27 pm

Not that cults don't form in even the most sophisticated of societies even today, but I think this sort of phenomenon clearly illustrates the willingness and ease the human species showcases when it comes to believing a higher power. Simply put, humans in general want to believe, and they'll believe just about anything if need be.

There's no wonder why our major religions formed when they did - that is, in an age where the world was much more like these tribes than the world we have today.


stinger
Posted 09 April 2009 at 11:38 am

Just a note, the Smithsonian article says they tried to buy LJ for $1000 not $77000:

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. But as the years passed with empty skies and seas, almost all the cargo cults disappeared, the devotees’ hopes crushed.


azdezinergirl
Posted 17 August 2010 at 08:17 am

My daughter taught me about John Frum...my mailman "brought" me a new car...he's our John Frum. I'm printing this article and putting it in the mailbox for him!!!


timjowers
Posted 02 November 2011 at 01:43 am

quite interesting indeed. you'd think someone would bother to ask the "cults" what they believe. I think one poster may have hit on it for real, if they have interesting rituals then they entertain themselves and their guests. I think also one must realize the fun of making bamboo towers and landing strips. Its like painting or drawing. The tone of superiority one senses from the earliest records of "tribes" rings through even in this article and most of the postings in it. Probably, in reality, the islanders are fairly smart. They might laugh at us saying "make a wish' when we blow out candles on a birthday cake as much as we laugh at them saying John Frum will come from the volcano!


timjowers
Posted 02 November 2011 at 01:45 am

timjowers said: "quite interesting indeed. you’d think someone would bother to ask the “cults” what they believe. I think one poster may have hit on it for real, if they have interesting rituals then they entertain themselves and their guests. I think also one must realize the fun of making bamboo towers and landing strips. Its like painting or drawing. The tone of superiority one senses from the earliest records of “tribes” rings through even in this article and most of the postings in it. Probably, in reality, the islanders are fairly smart. They might laugh at us saying “make a wish’ when we blow out candles on a birthday cake as much as we laugh at them saying John Frum will come from the volcano!"

BTW, generally a "cult" is any organization which forbids an individual to leave the group. Also, forbids interaction with other groups. So, "cult" is a misnomer but a derogatory term in the spirit of superiority mentioned above.


Jurrasic
Posted 25 December 2013 at 06:46 am

DI Doe said: "The cult, religion, whatever you want to call it; is being reinforced by tourists who have heard about the origins of the cult, who visit and bring Cargo in the form of money, gifts, etc. I also have heard the 'John from America' version, which might explain via media coverage why most of these tourists are American.

This is a lovely example of the kind of cause-and-effect thinking that humans are so good (and bad) at."

Funny you mention that, I was just thinking how if I was rich enough, one of the first things I would do is charter (or buy) a rebuilt WW2 warbird big enough to do a cargo drop from, load up a crate with useful goodies, fly down there and parachute drop a load of cargo right on top of them mid-ceremony.

A good deception deserves a little efford to maintain it, I always say. ;-)


James Mhango
Posted 28 January 2015 at 02:54 am

What else. what if whatever I believe in has similar connotations. we are not free beings we are under control of memes. Victims of information. This proves that All religions started like this. Examine all your beliefs and don't cry


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