On Tanna, a small island in the southern part of the Vanuatu archipelago, devoted believers await the second coming of an American deity who will bring divine gifts in the form of TVs, refrigerators, and Coca-Cola.
They are members of a cargo cult: an anthropological label for a tribal society that engages in religious practices designed to bring them goods — or “cargo” — from more technologically advanced cultures.
Cargo cults rose to prominence during World War II, when hundreds of thousands of American and Japanese soldiers flooded into the islands of the Pacific region, bringing items that reflected material wealth and industrialization. Seeing mass-produced goods such as candy and radios — and having no concept of manufacturing processes — some island residents believed the goods were divinely created.
When the war ended and the soldiers went home, the cargo disappeared. Cult members believed that goods were being dispatched to them, but being intercepted by Westerners. They responded to the by setting up mock airstrips, airports, and offices, hoping to attract the cargo deliveries they assumed had been diverted to Western places.