Cargo Cult - Tanna (island)
Vanuatu - Melanesia - Pacific Ocean
A cargo cult is any of a group of religious movements appearing in tribal societies in the wake of interaction with technologically-advanced, non-native cultures-which focus upon obtaining the material wealth of the advanced culture through magical thinking as well as religious rituals and practices-while believing that the materials were intended for them by their deities and ancestors.
The English, French, Russian, German, Australian, Japanese, and American material goods seen in contacts with these cultures have served to generate this religious behavior.
Vanuatu, in what was then New Hebrides, is a prime example because it is well documented.
Members, leaders, and prophets of Cargo cults maintain that the manufactured goods ("cargo") of the non-native culture have been created by spiritual means, such as through their deities and ancestors, and are intended for the local indigenous people, but that, unfairly, the foreigners have gained control of these objects through attraction of these material goods to themselves by malice or mistake.
Cargo cults thus focus on efforts to overcome what they perceive as the undue influence of the others attracting the goods, by conducting rituals imitating behavior they have observed among the holders of the desired wealth, and presuming that their deities and ancestors will, at last, recognize their own people and send the cargo to them instead.
Thus a characteristic feature of cargo cults is the belief that spiritual agents will at some future time give much valuable cargo and desirable manufactured products to the cult members.
In other instances such as on the island of Tanna in Vanuatu, cult members worship certain Americans, who brought the desired cargo to their island during World War II as part of the supplies used in the war effort, as the spiritual entity who will provide the cargo to them in the future.
An isolated society's first contact with the outside world can be a shock - often the natives first will assume that the newcomers are spiritual beings of some kind who possess divine powers.
Attempts may be made to fit the contact into the existing beliefs of the culture.
Sharing of wealth by leaders often is part of the beliefs and social traditions in the Micronesian native cultures.
With time, however, it will inevitably become apparent that the outsiders are mortal, that their power comes from their equipment (or cargo), and that they are not sharing the materials with the natives.
Reliance upon cultural traditions may suggest that proper rituals are not being followed, especially in a culture that has been altered by colonists and missionaries, but that devising new rituals may result in the fulfillment of their expectations.
Given their relative isolation, the cult participants generally have little knowledge of modern manufacturing and are liable to be skeptical about Western explanations.
Instead, symbols some associate with Christianity and modern Western society often tend to be incorporated into their rituals as magical artifacts.
Across cultural differences and large geographic areas, there have been instances of the movements organizing independently.
Famous examples of cargo cult activity include the setting up of mock airstrips, airports, offices, dining rooms, as well as the fetishisation and attempted construction of western goods, such as radios made of coconuts and straw.
Believers may stage "drills" and "marches" with sticks for rifles and use military-style insignia and "USA" painted on their bodies to make them look like soldiers, thereby treating the activities of western military personnel as rituals to be performed for the purpose of attracting the cargo.
The cult members built these items and 'facilities' in the belief that the structures would attract cargo intended to be sent to them.
Today, many historians and anthropologists argue that popular use of the term "cargo cult" is inaccurate and describes a variety of phenomena.
However, the idea has captured the imagination of many people in developed nations, and the term is used today without exactitude.
Because of this misunderstanding, and possibly many other reasons, the cults have been labelled by some as millenarian, although they do not resemble the conventional definition of a spiritual reward due to arrive, but in the sense that they hold that receipt of all these material goods and wealth is imminent or will come about if they perform certain religious rituals.
The history of cargo cults seems to have begun before historical records in these countries of Melanesia and advances from materials that arrive with foreigners by canoe to sailing vessels, freighters, and airplanes.
An indigenous tradition of exchange of goods and objects of wealth was tied to a belief that the ancestors and deities had an influence over these things and prophesies that they would return at some time laden with these objects of wealth for the members of the tribes.
Discussions of cargo cults usually begin with a series of movements that occurred in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century.
The earliest recorded cargo cult was the Tuka Movement that began in Fiji in 1885.
Cargo cults occurred periodically in many parts of the island of New Guinea, including the Taro Cult in Northern Papua New Guinea, and the Vailala Madness that arose in 1919 and was documented by F. E. Williams, one of the first anthropologists to conduct fieldwork in Papua New Guinea.
Less dramatic cargo cults have appeared in western New Guinea as well, including the Asmat and Dani areas.
The most widely known period of cargo cult activity, however, was in the years during and after World War II.
First the Japanese arrived with a great deal of unknown equipment and later Allied forces also used the islands in the same way.
The vast amounts of war matériel that were airdropped onto these islands during the Pacific campaign against the Empire of Japan necessarily meant drastic changes to the lifestyle of the islanders, many of whom had never seen Westerners or Japanese before.
Manufactured clothing, medicine, canned food, tents, weapons, and other useful goods arrived in vast quantities to equip soldiers.
Some of it was shared with the islanders who were their guides and hosts.
With the end of the war the airbases were abandoned, and "cargo" was no longer being dropped.
In attempts to get cargo to fall by parachute or land in planes or ships again, islanders imitated the same practices they had seen the soldiers, sailors, and airmen use.
They carved headphones from wood and wore them while sitting in fabricated control towers.
They waved the landing signals while standing on the runways.
They lit signal fires and torches to light up runways and lighthouses.
The cult members thought that the foreigners had some special connection to the deities and ancestors of the natives, who were the only beings powerful enough to produce such riches.
In a form of sympathetic magic, many built life-size replicas of airplanes out of straw and created new military-style landing strips, hoping to attract more airplanes.
Ultimately, although these practices did not bring about the return of the airplanes that brought such marvelous cargo during the war, they did have the effect of eradicating most of the religious practices that had existed prior to the war.
Over the last seventy-five years most cargo cults have disappeared.
Yet, the John Frum cult is still active on the island of Tanna, Vanuatu.
Other use of the term
From time to time, the term "cargo cult" is invoked as an English language idiom, to mean any group of people who imitate the superficial exterior of a process or system without having any understanding of the underlying substance.
The error of logic made by the islanders consisted of mistaking a necessary condition (i.e. building airstrips, control towers etc.) for cargo to come flying in, for a sufficient condition for cargo to come flying in, thereby reversing the causation. On a lower level, they repeated the same error by e.g. mistaking the necessary condition (i.e. build something that looks like a control tower) for building a control tower, for a sufficient condition for building a control tower.
The inception of cargo cults often is defined as being based on a flawed model of causation, being the confusion between the logical concepts of necessary condition and sufficient condition when aiming to obtain a certain result.
Based on this definition, the term "cargo cult" also is used in business and science to refer to a particular type of fallacy whereby ill-considered effort and ceremony take place but go unrewarded due to flawed models of causation as described above.
For example, Maoism has been referred to as "cargo cult Marxism" and New Zealand's optimistic adoption of liberal economic policies in the 1980s as "cargo cult capitalism".
The term as an adjective, is perhaps best known outside of Anthropology because of a speech by physicist Richard Feynman at a Caltech commencement, wherein he referred to "cargo cult science", and which became a chapter in the book Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!.
In the speech, Feynman pointed out that cargo cultists create all the appearance of an airport right down to headsets with bamboo "antennas", yet the airplanes don't come.
Feynman argued that some researchers often produce studies with all the trappings of real science, but which are nonetheless pseudoscience and unworthy of either respect or support.
Quasi-analogies in Western culture
Without fulfilling the definition of the term, the cargo cult has been misapplied as an analogy to describe certain phenomena.
In the area of business, after any substantial commercial success - whether it is a new model of car, a vacuum cleaner, a toy, or a motion picture - there typically arise imitators who produce superficial copies of the original, but with none of the substance of the original.
Some Amazonian Indians have carved wood replicas of cassette tape recorders (gabarora from Portuguese gravador or Spanish grabadora) that they use to communicate with spirits.
Modern UFO religions have been compared to the Cargo cults.
This is because cults such as Heaven's Gate believe that by imitating the appearance and behavior of 'extraterrestrials', they will gain access to the landing of an alien spacecraft.
The term also is used in the world of computer programming as "cargo cult programming" to describe a ritual inclusion of code which may serve no purpose in the program, but is believed to be an obstacle for some software bug, or to be otherwise required for reasons unknown to the programmer.
The term "cargo cult software engineering" has been coined in the field of software engineering to describe a characteristic of unsuccessful software development organisations that slavishly imitate the working methods of more successful development organisations.
Any new management fad is a possible subject for cargo cult-like adoption by poor managers.
Fictional use of the Cargo cult concept as a theme
In the "Ceasefire" episode of M*A*S*H, Hawkeye Pierce mentions a tribe on Guadalcanal which had made an idol out of a 1939 Chevrolet automobile.
The 1971 movie The Last Movie involves indigenous peasants in Peru fabricating ersatz film equipment and ritually emulating the activities of film production after the departure of a film crew that had been making a western.
French musician Serge Gainsbourg's 1971 concept album, Histoire de Melody Nelson, features a cargo cult as an element of the plot line, and ends with a song titled "Cargo Culte." (lyrics in French and English)
The 1976 episode of Doctor Who, The Face of Evil, the tribal descendants of a spacecraft crew come to regard their ancestors as gods and the equipment from the ship as holy relics.
Their name, the Sevateem, is a corruption of "survey team".
The 1980 movie The Gods Must Be Crazy tells the fictional story of how a "gift from the gods" in the form of a Coca-Cola bottle carelessly discarded from a passing airplane comes to be rejected, thus "presenting" a southwest African counter-example to cargo cults.
The 1983 comedy movie Luggage of the Gods! explores similar themes.
The 1984 movie, Where the Green Ants Dream, directed by Werner Herzog portrays Australian aborigines whose spirituality includes elements associated with cargo cults.
The 1985 sequel to Mad Max and The Road Warrior, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, had an element of cargo cultism.
The secondary plot revolves around Max (played by Mel Gibson) ending up at a desert oasis of feral children who are convinced that Max is 'Captain Walker' and is there to take them to 'Tomorrow-morrow Land'.
Once they have the pilot for whom they have been dutifully waiting for years, they enact rituals they think will enable a crashed commercial airliner that is lying in a sand dune to fly again.
The 1989 episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, entitled, "Quis custodiet ipsos custodes" (Who Watches the Watchers?) included a cargo cult in which Captain Picard is believed to be a god after a native has a brief (mistake) encounter with him.
The 1997 novel Island of the Sequined Love Nun by Christopher Moore prominently features a cargo cult.
Several novels and short stories by J. G. Ballard deal with or include as themes cargo cults, in particular the short story A Question Of Re-Entry in which a space capsule crashing in the jungle becomes the centre of a cargo cult.
For more information about Cargo Cult see Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
This page was retrieved and condensed from (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cargo_Cult) see Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, May 2008.
All text is available under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License (see Copyrights for details).
This information was correct in May 2008. E. & O.E.
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