Cargo Cult – Religious Movements claiming to obtain material goods (cargo) for indigenous people

A cargo cult is a religious movement that arises in a society where modern goods (cargo) are introduced, but the indigenous people do not have the means to produce or obtain them themselves.

These movements often arose as a response to colonialism, as indigenous societies were introduced to Western goods and technology. Charismatic leaders emerged to promise that the indigenous people would be able to obtain these things for themselves if they followed certain religious practices.

Cargo cults are often characterised by a messianic figure who tells his followers that they will be able to obtain cargo if they build airstrips or other Western infrastructure, and perform rituals such as singing Western songs or waving flags. The cult members believe that the goods (cargo) are created by the colonisers’ own ancestors or gods, so they set up rituals and magic in an attempt to obtain the same goods themselves.

The John Frum Cargo Cult

One of the most famous cargo cults was the John Frum movement, which arose on the island of Tanna in Vanuatu. The members of this cult believe that John Frum, an American serviceman who visited the island during World War II, will one day return and bring them cargo. They have set up rituals and built airstrips in an attempt to attract his attention.

The evolution of cargo cults

Cargo cults are an example of how indigenous societies have attempted to make sense of the sudden introduction of Western goods and technology. These movements often disappear once the indigenous people acquire the knowledge or the means to obtain the goods for themselves. In some cases, however, the cults evolved into political movements representing the interests of those with limited access to material wealth.

Related terms:

Colonialism: The political and economic domination of a country by another country.

Indigenous peoples: Peoples who are native to a particular territory and who have their own social, economic, and political institutions.

Tribalism: The social, economic, and political organization of people into tribes.

Glossary Terms starting with C

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