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John Frum (or Jon Frum, or John From) is a figure associated with cargo cults on the island of Tanna in Vanuatu. He is often depicted as an American World War II serviceman who will bring wealth and prosperity to the people if they follow him. He is sometimes portrayed as black, sometimes as white; from David Attenborough's report of an encounter: "'E look like you. 'E got white face. 'E tall man. 'E live 'long South America."
The religion centering on John Frum arose in the late 1930s, when Vanuatu was known as the New Hebrides. The movement was heavily influenced by existing religious practice in the Sulphur Bay area of Tanna, particularly the worship of Keraperamun, a god associated with Mount Tukosmera, Tanna's highest mountain. In some versions of the story, a native named Manehivi, under the alias "John Frum", began appearing among the native people of Tanna while dressed in a Western coat, making promises of houses, clothes, food, and transport. Others contend that John Frum was a kava-induced spirit vision. Said to be a manifestation of Keraperamun, John Frum promised the dawn of a new age, in which all white people, including missionaries, would leave the New Hebrides, and that the native Melanesians would gain access to the material wealth that white people enjoyed. For this to happen, however, the people of Tanna had to reject all aspects of European society (money, Western education, Christianity, work on copra plantations) and return to traditional kastom (a word for native Tannese customs).
In 1941, followers of John Frum rid themselves of their money in a frenzy of spending, left the missionary churches, schools, villages and plantations, and moved further inland to participate in traditional feasts, dances and rituals. European colonial authorities sought to suppress the movement, arresting a native who had started calling himself John Frum; humiliating him publicly, imprisoning him, and ultimately exiling him, along with other leaders of the cult, to another island in the archipelago.
Despite this effort, the movement gained popularity in the early 1940s, when some 300,000 American troops were stationed in the New Hebrides during the Second World War, bringing with them large amounts of supplies, or "cargo". After the war, and the departure of the Americans, followers of John Frum built symbolic landing strips to encourage American aeroplanes to once again land and bring them "cargo". Versions of the cult that emphasize the American influence interpret "John Frum" as a corruption of "John from (America)" (although it could be John from anywhere), and credit the presence of black Americans as influencing the idea that John Frum could be black.
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In 1957, a leader of the John Frum movement, Nakomaha, created the "Tanna Army", a non-violent, ritualistic organisation which organised military-style parades, their faces painted in ritual colours, and wearing white t-shirts with the letters "T-A USA" (Tanna Army USA). This parade still takes place every year on February 15.
The cult is still active today. The followers believe that John Frum will come back on a February 15 (the year of his return is not known), a date which is observed as "John Frum Day" in Vanuatu.
In the late 1970s, John Frum followers opposed the imminent creation of an independent united nation of Vanuatu. They objected to a centralised government which they feared would favour Western modernity and Christianity, felt to be detrimental to local customs. The John Frum movement has its own political party, led by Song Keaspai. On John Frum Day in February 2007, the John Frum Movement celebrated its 50th anniversary. Chief Isaak Wan Nikiau, its leader, was quoted by the BBC from years past as saying that John Frum was "our God, our Jesus," and would eventually return.
As of December 2011, Radio New Zealand International reported that the "president" of the John Frum movement (and jointly of Nagriamel) was Thitam Goiset, a woman of Vietnamese origin and sister of businessman Dinh Van Than, despite the leadership of these movements having been "previously [...] held by high ranking male chiefs".
See also 
- Attenborough, David (1960). People of Paradise. New York: Harper & Brothers.
- Worsley, Peter (1957). The Trumpet Shall Sound: A Study of 'Cargo' Cults in Melanesia London: MacGibbon & Kee. p. 154.
- Worsley, The Trumpet Shall Sound, pp. 153–9.
- Tabani, Marc, Une pirogue pour le Paradis : le culte de John Frum à Tanna (Vanuatu). Paris : Editions de la Maison des Sciences de l'Homme, 2008.
- Geoffrey Hurd et al., Human Societies: An Introduction to Sociology (Boston: Routledge, 1986) p. 74.
- Peter Worsley, From Primitives to Zen, Mircea Eliade ed. (New York: Harper & Row, 1977) p. 415.
- Lamont Lindstrom in Cargo Cults and Millenarian Movements: Transoceanic Comparisons of New Religious Movements G. W. Trompf ed. (New York: Mouton de Gruyter, 1990) p. 244
- Western Oceanian Religions: Jon Frum Movement University of Cumbria
- Turnbull, Alex (February 15, 2008). "John Frum Day". Googlesightseeing. Google. Retrieved 2011-02-04.
- "Vanuatu cargo cult marks 50 years". BBC News. 2007-02-15. Retrieved 2007-02-15.
- "Vanuatu appoints ambassador to Russia", Radio New Zealand International, 5 December 2011
Further reading 
- Attenborough, D. (1960) Quest in Paradise : Lutterworth Press, (reprinted 1963 Pan Books Ltd.)
- Rice, Edward (1974). John Frum He Come : Cargo Cults & Cargo Messiahs in the South Pacific. Garden City: Dorrance & Co. ISBN 0-385-00523-7.
- Huffer, Elise, Grands Hommes et Petites Îles: La Politique Extérieure de Fidji, de Tonga et du Vanuatu, Paris: Orstom, 1993, ISBN 2-7099-1125-6
- Jarvie, I. C. (1964). The Revolution in Anthropology (reprinted 1967) pp. 61–63. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.
- Lindstrom, L. (1990) “Big Men as Ancestors: Inspirations and Copyrights on Tanna (Vanuatu)”. Ethnology, vol xxix no. 4. October.
- Theroux, P (1992) 'The Happy Isles of Oceania' Penguin Books ISBN 0-14-015976-2
- Tabani, Marc, Une pirogue pour le Paradis : le culte de John Frum à Tanna (Vanuatu). Paris : Éditions de la Maison des Sciences de l'Homme, 2008.
- Nat. Geographic: May 1974. "Tanna (Island, New Hebrides, South Pacific Ocean) Awaits the Coming of John Frum (cargo cults of Melanesia since about 1940)".
- Raffaele, Paul (February 2006). "In John They Trust". Smithsonian (Smithsonian). Retrieved Nov 26, 2009.