Cargo cults: what they are and examples of associated religions

Throughout history, human beings have constantly wondered about the why and the how of their own existence, their past and their future, their conditions and whether it is possible to improve or even the meaning of life itself or reality. And among the different ways in which we have tried to answer these questions, we can find that of faith: religion.

There are many denominations and cultures that have emerged, lived and, in many cases, disappeared. While today a majority of the population tends to believe in one of the five most popular religions (Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism or Buddhism), the truth is that there is still a wide variety of beliefs. religious beyond these options.

These are a very small minority who have emerged from the contrast between disparate cultures and technological levels, as is the case with cargo cults. This is the kind of worship that we will be talking about throughout this article.

    What are the cargo cults?

    The cults of the charge or the charge are a set of spiritual and religious cults or beliefs present mainly in the islands of Oceania (And generally specific to Melanesia), especially in populations populated by indigenous peoples with limited contact with the rest of the world and limited technological development.

    It is a series of religious denominations which, although heterogeneous and different from each other in many ways, share the fact that they are based on the first contacts between the natives and the explorers, soldiers, travelers. and castaways from very different territories. technologically developed (generally European, American or Japanese) and all the goods that accompanied their shipments.

    Usually in this type of belief the charges themselves are seen as goods sent by gods or spirits to facilitate their lives, And the extraterrestrials who come with them are considered deities or envoys thereof in order to provide. This contact is not always positive, because in some cases the non-distribution of loads and goods or the unequal distribution is considered a crime or an act of greed and disobedience by those who should deliver them, and sometimes they do. have come to form insurgencies.

    The vehicles they arrived in also receive some reverenceSomething that in the end makes a lot of sense: the arrival of food parachuted from planes could be a big change for the local population, who watched in amazement at the food being delivered to them from the sky by objects or flying beings. difficult for them to understand. In a sense, most freight cults have rituals and customs like making replica satellite dishes and airplanes, in order to attract their arrival by mimicking the actions of Europeans, Americans and Asians with whom they go.

    It is important to keep in mind that while the hope and belief in the future arrival of the mailings may suggest that they maintain an attitude of laziness and inactivity (and in some cases a concentration on the arrival of shipments can be observed). these peoples are extremely active and must be in order to survive. Cargo cults they also involved the incorporation of many rituals and customs derived from the observation of Europeans, In the hope that its replication will allow the arrival of new goods.

      Where do these types of beliefs come from?

      As we have indicated, most of these beliefs have their origin in the first contacts between the inhabitants of a relatively isolated tribe or culture and the arrival on their territory of European or Asian explorers, military or shipwrecked (the contacts and shipments arriving during WWII). In many cases, previous cultures greatly valued the role of ancestors and their spirits, and sometimes the arrival of strangers was seen as a symbol or a return on their part.

      But these foreigners also transported goods that did not exist and were unknown to the natives: they came in large wooden or metal ships, or (later) in planes which saw and heard them flying over their territory, and transported food, tools, or weapons they had never seen that were more effective or useful than the ones they had before. So, and above all when the indigenous population began to exchange or receive these goods, they identified them as a divine gift or gift and he began to adore the fillers which proved to be so useful.

      Likewise, the emergence of cults in the charge allowed them to explain the role and existence of other beings hitherto non-existent for them, by procuring integrate strangers into their explanation of the world without generating dissonance with pre-existing beliefs. Even the presence of engine noise can be interpreted as a signal that spirits are appearing.

      Moreover, similar to what initially happened in South and Central America when Europeans came to their shores, on more than one occasion the newcomers themselves began to see advantages in these beliefs and even to encourage to obtain different types of advantages or as well as the native population no revolt. This has led to the strengthening of the cargo or cargo cults, although over time some of the people with this type of beliefs have captured the use and inequality of foreigners when they share their wares and have finished. by being wary of them.

      Two examples of official worship

      As stated above, there is not a single cult of accusation, but it is possible to find a great diversity of peoples and beliefs that are part of this type of worship. Below we can see some examples.

      Tanna Island: The Cult of John Frum

      On this Melanesian island we can find several different charge cults. One of the best known is the cult of John Frum, considered the King of America.

      Probably an American aviator (the name is assumed to come from “John from America”) arrived during WWII, this representative figure adorned with a military uniform is considered a deity that he once came to the island with great gifts, but that after some time and having predicted the white man’s departure from the island, he left her, promising to return. The widespread belief is that one day it will, emerging from the Yasur volcano laden with new products.

      Even today, islanders perform different rituals, and even walk with sticks resembling guns and the American flag every February 15, awaiting the return of their god.

      Madang and the cult of missionaries

      Another of the most famous cults of the charge is that of Madang, on the north coast of Papua New Guinea. In this case, the locals, seeing that the practices and beliefs of the Western missionaries provided them with more developed tools and skills (in addition to receiving different burdens), began to seek to learn ideas and beliefs. Christians to try to find out what it’s secret.

      However, in their search for acquiring and learning Western Christian beliefs, locals have acquired a different interpretation by mixing them up with their search for the charge or the charge: they considered that the figure of Christ provided the inhabitants of Europe with the burdenBut that the missionaries themselves nevertheless wanted to keep it to themselves.

      Later would come the Second World War, in which they would be invaded by the Japanese. As these drove out the missionaries and these in turn were seen as obstacles or oppressors, they were initially well received although the looting that this army carried out ended up causing the native settlers to stop valuing and relying on them. be interested in contact with foreigners, even after the latter have retired.

      Bibliographical references:

      • Harris, M. (2016). Cows, pigs, wars and witches. Ed. Alliance, p. 150-172.
      • Jebens, H. (2004): Cargo, Cult and Culture Critique, ed. University of Hawaii Press.

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