Thursday, October 4, 2007
A cargo cult is any of a group of unorthodox religious movements appearing in tribal societies in the wake of Western impact, especially in New Guinea and Melanesia. Cargo cults sometimes maintain that manufactured western goods ("cargo") have been created by divine spirits and are intended for the local indigenous people, but that Westerners have unfairly gained control of these objects. Cargo cults thus focus on overcoming what they perceive as undue 'white' influences by conducting rituals similar to the white behavior they have observed, presuming that the ancestors will at last recognize their own and send them cargo. 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 Americans who brought the cargo.
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 cultists thought that the foreigners had some special connection to their own ancestors, who were the only beings powerful enough to produce such riches.
A similar cult, the dance of the spirits, arose from contact between Native Americans and the Anglo-American civilization in late 19th century. The Paiute prophet Wovoka preached that by dancing in a certain fashion, the ancestors would come back on railways and a new earth would cover the white people. Some Amazonian Indians have carved wood mockups of cassette players (gabarora from Portuguese gravadora or Spanish grabadora) that they use to communicate with spirits.
Famous French guy Serge Gainsbourg wrote a song about Cargo Cults on his 1971 album "Histoire de Melody Nelson".
I know of the the magicians who call to jets
In the jungle of New Guinea
They scrutinize the zenith coveting the guineas
That the pillage of freight would bring them
On the sea of coral in the wake of this
Machine those creatures not deprived
Of reason those Papuans wait for vapour
The wreck of the Vice-count and that of the Comet
And as their totem hasn't ever been able to bring down
To their feet neither a Boeing nor even a D.C. four
They dream of hijacks and of bird accidents
Those naive shipwreckers armed with blowguns
Who sacrifice to the cargo cult
By blowing toward the azur and the airplanes.
Where are you Melody and your wrecked body
Is it haunting the archipeligo where the sirens live
Or well attatched to the cargo plane whose siren
Of alarm has become silent, did you stay
Adrift on the currents have you already touched
Those bright corals of the Guinean costs
Where those indiginous magicians act in vain
Who still hope for smashed planes
Having nothing more to lose nor a God in whom to believe,
So that they give me meaningless loves
I, like them, I prayed to the night cargo planes
And I hold onto that hope of an air
Disaster that would bring Melody back to me
A minor turned away from the gravity of the stars.