February 15 is John Frum Day on Tana Island in Vanuatu, an archipelago republic in the South Pacific. There is disagreement about who the original John Frum was, however, most believe he was an American serviceman possibly of African descent who visited the island in the 1930s and began a “cargo cult.” He supposedly promised houses, clothes food, and transport but the people of Tanna had to reject all aspects of European society including money, Western education, and Christianity.
The movement gained popularity in the early 1940s, when 300,000 soldiers were stationed ithere during World War II, bringing with them an enormous amount of supplies (or “cargo”). After the war and the departure of the Americans, followers of John Frum built symbolic landing strips to encourage American airplanes to land and bring them “cargo”.
In 1957, a leader of the John Frum movement, Nakomaha, created the “Tanna Army”, a non-violent, ritualistic society that organised military-style parades of men whose faces were painted ritual colours and who wore white T-shirts with the letters “T-A USA” (Tanna Army USA). This parade takes place every year on February 15, the date on which followers believe John Frum will return, and which is observed as “John Frum Day” in Vanuatu.
This image John Frum Gathering Area is the work of Charmaine Tham and is made available under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.