The Copycat Cult
Cargo Cults Of The South Pacific
Imagine that you are an indigenous native inhabiting one of the many islands in the South Pacific during the early nineteen hundreds or even up through World War Two. Perhaps it is New Guinea or one of the many islands of Micronesia or Melanesia; a remote place, completely isolated from the rest of the world. You stand there with your fellow villagers as the village elder, shaman or sorcerer recounts a vision he had from reading his spirit possessed stones or maybe from a dream. It is a vision prophesying that the ancestral spirits are coming back to aid the living by pouring riches down from the sky. Shortly thereafter, the prophecy begins to reveal itself as true! Loud rumblings are heard crossing the heavens and crates drift down slowly to the ground! Then, in a tragic example of inequity, pasty faced green clad men swoop in from the sea and steal all of the precious riches that the ancestral gods have sent!
This is the simplistic confusion that created what has become commonly known as “cargo cults.” The first documented report, written by anthropologist F.E. Williams in 1919, detailed what was dubbed 'The Vailala Madness,' which occurred in the Territory of Papua, New Guinea. The indigenous people began to display psychosomatic symptoms, uncontrollable shaking and glossolalia, or speaking in tongues. It seems that the 'madness' is most easily explained as culture shock on a grand scale. The incorporation of Christian doctrines, which had been introduced to the villagers in the 1890's, as well as the desire to explain the appearance of all these 'strangers' needed to be reconciled to fit within the limited, yet long held beliefs, of the villagers.
During WWII, many tiny islands within the South Pacific region succumbed to these 'cargo cults,' after the Japanese, and then the Americans, commandeered the islands for strategic purposes. These natives witnessed a world of riches being unloaded from ships or dropped from planes, not understanding how supplies were actually manufactured, they believed that these interlopers were stealing the treasures that the gods had intended for them. Perhaps thinking that the interlopers had a better way to communicate with the gods, almost all of the cargo cults displayed the same erratic mimicry of the 'white man' to try to regain the gods' favor. The natives made replicas of landing strips, replete with torches as landing lights. They made radio towers out of bamboo and radio headsets out of hollowed out coconuts and string. They even made reproductions of airplanes out of bamboo and straw. They painted their bodies to mimic the soldier's uniforms and had sticks for rifles, complete with a sharpened red tip to represent a bayonets, and they held drills, marching back and forth in parade formation. All to no avail.
While we may view these natives as naïve and rather unenlightened, there are examples of the 'cargo cult' mentality within our own 'sophisticated' and modern world. Some of the UFO cults, such as the Heaven's Gate cult, dress in the manner that they believe an extraterrestrial would, so as to gain acceptance by the aliens. In the marketplace, when a product is introduced that is successful, a myriad of other look alike 'knock off' products flood the market. Even sociologically, we hold some of the beliefs that drive the cargo cults. You don't have to believe that last statement. Just put on your Versini suit, slip on your black Belvedere shoes and don't forget your red power tie. The gods will finally notice you and bless you with riches once you dress for success.