John Frum America

The New Hebrides Condominium had been under joint French-British rule for twenty-five years. The old ways were disappearing fast. Whatever traditional customs that the colonial governments didn’t prohibit, the Presbyterian missionaries made sure to anathematize.

This was why, on February 15, 1931, the tribal elders called a meeting of all the men on the island of Tanna. Chief Nikiau was the speaker.

“We have had a vision tonight, a vision of God. He came out of the volcano and spoke to us. He told us that we must stop following the white man’s ways,” he warned, “or we will disappear into the ocean like the sun. First, throw away their money, their francs and pounds!”

A tense silence engulfed the gathering as he paused.

“...throw away their clothes...”

A murmur began to roll through the crowd of several thousand.

“We must take our children from their schools and quit their churches! We must return to our customs! We must drink kava and worship the magic stones and bring back our dances!”

Shouts erupted as a spark of pride glowed in the natives and Chief Nikiau delivered the final message.

“God told us that he would send us a savior and his name will be John. John Frum! He will deliver to us all that we are lacking!”

This return to tradition of the natives of New Hebrides struggled for over a decade. And then something unexpected happened.

Several thousand American soldiers arrived in New Hebrides. Among them was one with some slightly progressive ideas. He was only there for a short time but when he spoke to the locals he introduced himself as John from America.

All they remembered was “John from.” A bonanza of American goods followed the army and the most memorable of the cargo cults was born.


Enbrethiliel said...


I remember reading about this years ago, in a book which used the same photo! (The semi-yellow Strange Stories, Amazing Facts published by Reader's Digest, if you were wondering.)

It's easy to see (hear?) why some random "John from America" was assumed to be the long-awaited "John Frum," but I wonder how the whole thing got started in the first place. I mean, why Frum? And while we're asking impossible questions, why John? Isn't everyone else in the world waiting for Joe Frum? =P

cyurkanin said...

I had a lot of those Reader's Digest books growing up, Mysteries of the Unexplained, Strange Facts, Hidden History, etc. I think I got rid of them all a while ago in the first purge of my library but they were really effective in getting kids interested in history.

Why John? Why Frum? Have you ever had kava? I have lol You can't question a collective vision!