Thursday, November 03, 2005

Cargo Cults

Some South Pacific Islanders (e.g. in Papua New Guinea) believe that western goods (called "cargo") are produced by ancestral gods. They build airstrips in the jungles to entice the gods to send them airplanes full of cargo. These religious groups are known as "cargo cults". Several members were arrested recently, which is how I heard about them.

This makes me wonder. Do the cargo cults consider the cargo planes to be religious artifacts? Are the pilot and crew considered gods, or angels, or priests, or ... ?

And what about the cargo itself? Is it considered sacred or special in some way because it came from the gods, or is it just stuff that the gods give to the people in fulfillment of some sort of provider role?

Further, is it possible to infer anything about the gods' state of mind from the contents of the cargo? For example, if the cargo is food does that mean the gods are happy with the people, but a shipment of schoolbooks means they're angry? (Schoolbooks could be like extra homework assigned by an angry teacher.) Or is any cargo a sign of the gods' pleasure and its absence an indicator of displeasure?

Similarly, does the contents of the cargo signal the desires of the gods? Or an omen? How do you tell the difference? I mean, what does a shipment of guns mean? Is it a gift to help the people hunt for food? Weapons to help defend themselves from an imminent attack? Weapons to help them get revenge on a neighboring village? Or a suggestion to kill themselves? Or would that be a shipment of Cool-Aid™? :-)

Gotta go, I think I hear a plane coming.

3 comments:

tim boucher said...

check out this bit about a cargo cult "god" called john frum, it answers some of these questions:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Frum

Gene said...

do the natives confiscate everything that lands, or just the cargo? can a plane refuel there? what's the length of the airstrip - big enough for most cargo aircraft ?

Gene said...

I scanned CARGO magazine and didn't find anything about cults.

What up wit dat?