No planes or soldiers were remotely near the islands of Vanuatu, yet airstrips were appearing like scars through the pristine landscapes. World War II had ended, both the Americans and Japanese had left. Slowly the airstrips multiplied, some came with bamboo and rope control towers. The strips were not for the planes of war, they were rituals for a new religion. The builders, islanders, were waiting for John Frum. He would bring planes, a new future, and precious cargo.
The 80 islands of Vanuatu can seem like a paradise to some, they are fertile; warm, and occasionally volcanic. Those people who chose the Pacific as their home had lived their for thousands of years, growing their own unique and deep culture. This of course included their beliefs or kastom (special customs) which included things such as ceremonial wrappings, polygamy, and the drinking of kava to induce visions. Life went on amongst the islands until the mid-19th Century and the arrival of Christian missionaries. They came with gifts, smiles, and a new culture to replace the current one. It was a bit too much for the islanders to stomach.
Missionaries swarmed in, step by sacred step, yet the islanders consumed with their work, but they were rebuffed. It was a long and drawn out process, many missionaries became consumed by their work, some fled, and other missionaries were simply consumed. It is from Vanuatu that the stereotype of ‘Cannibalistic Islander’ first emerged.
By the 20th Century missionaries ruled many of the islands, squashing the old culture with their own. One such island was Tanna; ruled jointly by British and French, the islanders found their old kastom outlawed, and material wealth enforced. Worshipping their spirits was banned, as was polyamory and kava. They lived in the new world of schools and money, this was not a good time. Then came John Frum.