Cargo Cults?

I had heard someone mention this term the other day, and my research turned up brief mentions of remote tribes in what seems to be Micronesia, who upon contact with 19th and 20th century westerners decided that they were gods, but more than this I cannot find. Is this true? Are or were there tribes of people who believed that westerners and their “cargo” were sent from God? Please help me out here.

There still is at least one cargo cult extant today, I believe that the name of their god comes from the side of a packing crate (I forget their name though).

Found these sites: (actually, this was the cult I was thinking of)

If you’re looking for an anthropologist’s explanation of these, have a look at Marvin Harris’ work. I believe that he debvotes a chapter to Cargo Cults in his book Cows, Pigs, Wars, and Witches, which is eminently readable.
Don’t listen to Erich van Daniken on this!
An interesting read, by the way, is Larry Niven and Steven Barnes’ Dream Park, in which a life-size Role Playing Game is set in the mythology of cargo cultists. Very clever resolution.

Yes, cargo cults existed. Especially after World War II, when airplanes made frequent landings and airlifts in the islands of the Pacific, many native groups developed a ritualistic devotion to aircraft. They believed that planes would land to deliver them divine gifts and prophecies. I highly recommend Marvin Harris’ Cows, Pigs, Wars, and Witches for a wonderful chapter on cargo cults and and an anthropological explanation for their development.

From what I’ve read, they didn’t so much believe the white folks were gods, but they believed that the white folks had some sort of special magics and rituals that got them better results than their own did.

This was especially reinforced during World War II, when the airdropping of supplies to island bases was common. Watching giant boxes of cool stuff just come plummeting out of the sky to land like a feather must certainly have an effect on someone who doesn’t know the score.

It didn’t help that on a couple of occasions, items from missed airdrops washed up on shore where cultists could find them… thus reinforcing the idea that they were occasionally doing something RIGHT…

They’re best known for building fake airports and aircraft out of bamboo and local materials, hoping to lure some of the Airplanes Of The Gods down so they can get some goodies. This particular belief form ended badly on at least one recorded occasion, though… when they got hold of an “airplane egg” and decided to try and hatch it so they could raise their own airplane, which would then fly back and forth to Heaven to get their cargo.

The “egg” was a steel, finned ovoid object. For lack of any other ideas, they built a fire and dumped the thing in it.

Once the fuse and firing mechanism got hot enough…

Do you have a cite for this improbable story?


Here’s one that worships the Duke of Edinburgh:

I don’t have a cite for Wang-Ka’s story, but I do remember that situation being discussed (or at least mentioned) in my college anthropology course. Fake airports and all.

By the way, Niven and Barnes cite a book as reference which I have not read, which was the basis for a lot of what they wrote: Road Bilong Cargo.
I see that peepthis recommends Harris’ book, too.

Sorry, I need to correct that. We only discussed the cults in general, not the “egg” incident, which of course is what you were asking about.

Never mind…

<minor hijack>
If you weren’t already aware of it, there is actually a live-action roleplaying organization called the International Fantasy Gaming Society (although we are regrettably lacking in Dream Park technology). The IFGS got Niven and Barnes’ permission to call itself that, and both authors have participated in at least one game. The cargo cults have never turned up in a real IFGS game, although nearly every other mythos has. Perhaps I should do something about that…

Um… that’s my cite. At least until I can find my copy of Dream Park and read the authors’ afterword, in which THEY cite the “airplane egg” story…