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Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Jon Frum Cult

John Brum (Jon Frum) Cargo Cult village visit August 8, 2007.

Today the weather improved so we planned to go snorkeling and hopefully visit the Jon Frum Cargo Cult village. Since it is a two hour walk each way to the village and with my back on the mend I proposed we take the dingy instead of the long walk. Since the village is located on the seashore about two to three miles up the coast the only concern was the risk of engine failure. So we packed up some gear including a VHF radio then let the neighboring boats know our plans. A conservative approach, but you don't get too many second chances in this part of the world. We stopped by to meet the crew of a catamaran that had recently anchored in the bay and after a short chat invited Joe and Amerta to join us on our adventure. Taking two boats would give us additional security should something go wrong. So off we went out of the bay and on our way to Sulfur Bay. The ride was pretty rough as we were unprotected from the reinforced trade winds blowing unobstructed for thousands of miles and the seas were lumpy for our small ten foot dinghies. After running close to the jagged cliff strewn shore line with huge crashing waves, we finally spotted a hut in the next windblown bay, rimmed with swaying palms silhouetted on the barren slopes of the impressive Mt. Yasar volcano's continuous belching of steam and ash.

Approaching the black sand beach we spotted a few fishermen on shore and a dozen or so hand carved out rigger canoes. They motioned for us to come ashore. The surf was crashing pretty hard on the steeply inclined and ominous black sand beach, raising our concerns. We could land the boats if we timed the waves correctly, but getting off the beach later would be entirely a different matter. The consequences of a poorly timed departure would be an inverted boat and ruined outboard motor. Anchor out and body surfing ashore seemed the only alternative short of abandoning the venture. The problem was getting all of the trade goods we'd brought along to shore in a marketable condition. Joe had a dry bag and offered to pack my new Canon digital camera and a dry shirt. I volunteered to shuttle everyone as near the beach as possible between wave sets then take the dingy out to anchor it and make the long swim ashore. When I arrive on the beach Joe, Amerta and Kathy were attempting to convey our interest in visiting the village to two young men wielding machetes. One had a Mohawk of dreadlocks and the other a considerable fro. They didn't seem too welcoming and only spoke French so we were struggling with our limited French to make our interest of talking to the chief clear. Fortunately, a woman in her twenties was walking the beach with a bamboo fishing pole in one hand a small leaf basket of fish in the other. She spoke some English and offered to guide us to the chief. The dusty run down village was just behind a small sand dune off the beach. At the center of the village was a central open walled hut roughly sixteen by twenty four foot with a volcanic sand floor. Inside about a dozen women sprawled out on mats. As we approached we called out Bonjour, Hallo and Hello covering French, Bislama and English greetings, the response was unenthusiastic and sedated. We sat for a moment with the women and waited for the chief who came to greet us. We then discussed the fee for visiting the village, $500 Vatu each or $5 USD, a real bargain to see not only the original Jon Frum Village but the worldwide headquarters. The fee is a smart move on the villagers' part to generate some revenue, which is probably the only reason they allow visitors. (Google Jon Frum now if you don't know the story).

We then walked to the centerpiece of the village, a white painted concrete block structure with a red cross painted prominently. On one side, a commemorative plaque with the following in Bislama "Long Memori blong Strugel blong ol olf ala Bubu blong yumi. We oli Difendem ol bilif blong. John Brum Movement". Perhaps someone could translate this and email me the translation? The monument called into question the many references we'd see to the spelling of Jon Frum not John Brum. Humm. Back to the central hut we asked if any of the villagers would be interested in some trading. Specifically, we were looking for an authentic Jon Frum grass skirt used in their Friday night dances. A short time later out came a number of intricately woven hand bags, grass mats, feather dusters, wild boar tusks, fans and several colorful grass skirts. After some consideration Kathy picked out two bags and a skirt. I selected the curved tusk. Then the negotiations started. The only problem is we didn't know who tendered the items for trade. Kathy spread out her trade goods, a couple of skirts, tops, and a children's outfit. Soft conversations between the women ensued for perhaps ten minutes; I lost interest and slipped into the village for some more photos. When I returned little had transpired and then I suggested Kathy bring out the secret weapon, nail polish. This created a murmur of excitement and a more beautiful grass skirt was tendered and the trades went down with the exception of the wild boar tusk.

Next the chief offered some coconut water (from green coconuts) and then proceeded to climb a tree in the village to knock off some coconuts and hack them open with his machete. And that was pretty much it. Very sedated people, stand offish at first and then slowly warming up. We felt like this group of people really are a cult and at times I felt like I was in a mental institute. From what I read, they really don't worry so much about the future, such as tending gardens or fixing their houses, as their savior, Jon Frum will be coming at anytime with a cargo full of wealth! We were ready to go and face the long rough journey against the wind back to the yachts. So we swam though the surf and headed home.

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