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Mico Verde
It's Raining TVs, Hallelujah!

Port Resolution, Tanna, Vanuatu
September 1, 2006

(Steph) Tanna is headquarters for the Jon Frum Movement, aka a cargo cult. Having heard about this cultural phenomenon, we couldn't pass up an opportunity to watch the people in action.

The background of this cult is that during World War II, the U.S. military used Vanuatu as part of its defense strategy against Japan. Upon seeing all the stuff that the U.S. army had -- airplanes, trucks, radios, Coca Cola -- some of the local Vanuatans decided that all of this must be a gift from a god. After the military departed, they started worshipping a god-like figure they named Jon Frum, who supposedly will descend someday from the sky with a lot of stuff for them. I'm sure I am over-simplifying this a bit, but I don't have a lot of information about the cult at my disposal. If you want to know more, try Wikipedia. You're the one with Internet access!

There are various Jon Frum villages around the island. Their Friday night ritual is to dance and sing from dusk till dawn. Singing and guitar groups from around the island travel every Friday to participate. Woj and I were given a ride to the village around 10 pm and the ritual was in full swing. The current band sits in a clump in the middle of an open meeting house, while some spectators sit and watch around the edges of the house. Around the building, people dance wearing brightly colored grass skirts over their every day clothing. One older gentleman wore the costume of an American WWII soldier. The village bands alternate the stage every 20 minutes or so, with complete silence between songs and between sets. During the silence, we could hear the eerie explosions of Mt. Yasur, which overlooks the village.

The music they play is all in the same three chords, and the rhythm of each song is so similar that it was hard for us to distinguish the differences between each one. But reportedly they sing about how good it will be when Jon Frum arrives, and how much better life is if everyone stays in the village. A Peace Corps worker we've met told us that he thinks the movement is dying out a bit with the younger people, at least the spiritual side of it. But they still like to participate in the dancing and singing, because hey -- what else is going on Friday night?

One of the congregation in his American serviceman costume.

A bunch of people in grass skirts like these danced around the outside of the hut housing the band.

The experience was interesting for the hour and a half we spent there, although I don't know how they keep up the momentum to go all night. No one looked particularly energized, and many seemed to be just going through the motions. Our guide, a man named Johnson from the Port Resolution village, told us he has attended the whole night through before, but he usually goes off for a few cat naps.

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