Cargo Cults and Entrepreneurial Baggage

cargo-cult-7During World War II, a small population of indigenous Melanesian islanders was direct witness to the largest war effort ever mobilized. The vast amounts of military equipment and supplies airdropped by the Japanese and then the Allies introduced drastic changes to the lifestyle of the residents. Many had never even seen outsiders before, let alone the likeness of a massive Black Friday drone drop of goods and people.

Since modern manufacturing was unknown to the islanders, they attributed this influx of manufactured clothing, medicine, canned food, tents, weapons and other goods to their deities and ancestors. By such attribution, the foreigners could no longer be seen as the source of these gifts but rather had to now be regarded as having unfairly gained control of these objects through malice or mistake creating the expectation that spiritual agents will, at some future time, give much valuable cargo to the cult members. Many of these cults adopted certain unspecified American deity names such as “John Frum” or “Tom Navy” who they claimed had brought cargo to their island during World War II and who they identified as being the spiritual entity who would provide cargo to them in the future.

cargo-cult-1With the end of the war, the military abandoned the airbases and stopped dropping cargo from the heavens. To encourage the deliveries of food, arms, Jeeps, etc. , cult members imitated the same practices they had seen the soldiers, sailors, and airmen do. They performed parade ground drills with wooden or salvaged rifles, carved headphones from wood, waved landing signals from fabricated control towers, lit signal fires and torches to light up runways and lighthouses and actually built life-size replicas of airplanes out of straw parking them on new military-style landing strips hoping to attract more gift-giving airplanes. The cult members thought that the foreigners had some special connection to the deities and ancestors of the natives, who were the only beings powerful enough to produce such riches.


One of the reasons so many persons fail to find, free and follow their destinies is that they succumb to the weight of well-intentioned parents, teachers, coaches and significant adults who influence them to “be realistic” and abandon their heartfelt aspirations of being a dancer or an artist or a small business owner in favor of taking the conventional “adult” route of “grown-up” careers. So, like the  indigenous Melanesian islanders, they sadly place value on the commercial goods they’ve been “delivered” by others and mimic happiness in the ever-dimming candle of hope that they’ll one day be saved by generous bosses who reign from above and actually care about who they are as people. Maybe that’s why the castaways never got off Gilligan’s Island.



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