ABOUT THE FILM

If you had never heard of an airplane or a refrigerator, would you think it was a miracle when one arrived? When the American military landed on a remote island in the South Pacific during World War II, the islanders were amazed by America's fantastic cargo - planes, trucks, refrigerators, canned food. They thought such goods could only come from the Gods. Led by the mysterious prophet John, a religion was born, the John Frum Movement, also known as a Cargo Cult. 

The John Frum Movement still exists in one village in the islands of Vanuatu; the leaders still go to speak with the spirit of John in sacred caves and believers sing songs about him every Friday night. While the US may have forgotten Tanna Island, the American flag flies high over the village of Lamakara and young men march in formation, imitating US soldiers. Lamakara is the last stronghold of the John Frum Movement, but today it is plagued by outside pressures and internal conflict. Waiting for John explores this extraordinary religion from the perspective of the last village of believers, as they struggle to preserve their way of life. In the process this film asks, where do prophets come from? And what makes people believe?

 

Where is Tanna Island?

A place of myth and magic, Tanna Island is a small island in the South Pacific island chain of Vanuatu, northeast of Australia. The island is about 200 square miles and has a population of about 20,000, speaking over seven tribal languages. Mount Yasur is the active volcano on Tanna and, in the shadow of this volcano, you can find the John Frum village of Lamakara.



Tanna Island on the map

What is a cargo cult?

A cargo cult is a religious movement that develops when an isolated pre-industrial community comes in contact with the extreme material wealth of the outside world.  If the first time you saw an airplane, a radio or a refrigerator, there was no explanation of how it was made or where it came from, it may seem that these goods could only be from the spirit world.

Who is John Frum?

Some people say John Frum was a man, a leader who inspired his people to resist repression. Some say he was a figment created in the minds of shrewd and calculating men, who used him to gain power. Some say he was an American, perhaps military scouting the area before the war and still others claim he is a spirit; he can turn from man to tiger, he can fly to the moon and back, he can turn ash to sugar and words to actions. There are no photos of John Frum, no family that vouches for his existence. But there are stories as early as 1938, even before the war, that chronicle John’s fight against the repression brought by the government and missionaries on the island. Whoever he was, John Frum inspired the people on the island of Tanna to resist European rule and go back to their traditional ways. John also made a prophecy - he predicted that Americans would arrive on the island and good things would rain down upon its people. ​

Where does America come in?​

December 1941: World War II rages in Europe and the Japanese have just bombed Pearl Harbor. The United States sends 300,000 troops to build strategic bases in the South Pacific to prevent Japanese advancement. The a string of 82 small islands called the New Hebrides (now Vanuatu) is about 4000 miles southeast of Japan. When the American military lands on the island of Tanna with its indulgent cargo - refrigerators, vaccines, pick-up trucks, canned food – the islanders are impressed with these luxuries and believe the spirits have spoken. John’s prophecy is fulfilled, a brotherhood with America established, and a religion is born: the John Frum Movement.

What is Waiting for John about?

 

Waiting for John tells the story of this last village of believers today - their history, culture and their struggle to preserve the John Frum belief. We meet the members of the John Frum Movement and understand why they continue to believe in a brotherhood with America and their prophet John Frum.

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