Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Cargo cults and sorcery

Joan, the kids and I spent 6 years in Papua New Guinea from 1970. It was an absolutely wonderful adventure in a relatively safe environment. Not so now. Cargo cults and sorcery are still rife.

I read of a survey conducted in PNG about the effectiveness of the Justice system. The question asked was..Should sorcery and witchcraft be used as alternatives to solving law and order problems that have remained unsolved over a long period of time?
The results so far: Yeas 55%, Nays 42%, Don't knows 3%.

In the 70s we experienced two major cargo cults; one in the Sepik District and one in the Northern District. In the Sepik District a villager told other villagers that a large obelisk on a hill was actually a stopper to a tunnel overseas where white men (and women) got all their, trucks, boats, planes and of course, money. He had a huge following and some crazy schemes were followed without question. Chinese-made suitcases were purchased and money was put in them and buried. The idea was that at a certain date they were to be dug up and the money would have multiplied. In his village he had a money making factory where silver coins were passed from one room to another through bamboo pipes. The sound was certainly convincing to his followers. It all ended up with a large group of his followers removing the obelisk and carrying it into town. After all the non events, it just died out. I never heard of any disappointed followers getting even a bit cranky. How he explained it all away is not known. I suspect the followers believed that whitey had stymied their operation.

The concrete obelisk was, I believe, part of a geodetic survey of the world by the US Air Force carried out in the late 60s.

When I was single teaching in Papua in the early sixties I was unwittingly involved in a cargo cult in the village I lived in. More about that next post.

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