For this episode, we decided to keep up our recent trend of moving away from purely Euro-American religious traditions. While John Frum utilizes some components of Christianity, it is ultimately dedicated to the preservation of Melanesian kastom on the island of Tanna in the archipelago nation of Vanuatu. In order to tell John Frum's story, we consulted a variety of primary and secondary sources that we think you should also consider if you want to learn more about the movement.
Unfortunately, few primary sources exist that compellingly capture the voices of John Frum followers. That is largely because the Indigenous people of Tanna transmit information about John Frum orally. Some leaders staunchly oppose learning how to read and write in Euro-American languages like English or French. Nevertheless, you can find ample testimony from John Frum followers in works by anthropologists, journalists, and documentary filmmakers. To provide additional historical context, we consulted the following works written by Euro-American visitors to the New Hebrides (the name for Vanuatu prior to its independence from Condominium rule):
Cook, James. The Journals, Edited by Philip Edwards. New York: Penguin, 1999. Sample available online here.
Gourguechon, Charlene. Journey to the End of the World: A Three-Year Adventure in the New Hebrides. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1977.
Paton, John G. John G. Paton, Missionary to the New Hebrides: An Autobiography. New York: Robert Carter and Brothers, 1889. Available online here.
John Frum boasts a rich secondary literature populated primarily by the works of anthropologists. The following monographs and articles were all helpful in their own ways, but I will provide some brief comments on works that I frequently found myself returning to:
Crowley, Daniel J., and Magdalene L. Crowley. "Religion and Politics in the John Frum Festival, Tanna Island, Vanuatu." Journal of Folklore Research 33, no. 2 (1996).
This succinct piece by a folklorist and photographer provides a fine introduction to the John Frum festival that takes place every year on February 15. The Crowleys also offer helpful observations related to Prime Minister Walter Lini's views on John Frum shortly before the end of his reign.
Edmond, Rod. Migrations: Journeys in Time and Place. Wellington, New Zealand: Bridget Williams Books, 2013. Sample available online here.
Flexner, James L. An Archaeology of Early Christianity in Vanuatu: Kastom and Religious Change on Tanna and Erromango, 1839–1920. Acton, ACT, Australia: ANU Press, 2016.
Gregory, Robert J., and Janet E. Gregory. "John Frum: An Indigenous Strategy of Reaction to Mission Rule and the Colonial Order." Pacific Studies 7, no. 2 (1984).
Lindstrom, Lamont. "Cargo Cult at the Third Millennium." In Cargo, Cult, and Culture Critique. Edited by Holger Jebens. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2004.
Lindstrom, Lamont. Cargo Cult: Strange Stories of Desire from Melanesia and Beyond. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1993.
Lindstrom, Lamont. "Knowledge of Cargo, Knowledge of Cult: Truth and Power on Tanna, Vanuata." In Cargo Cults and Millenarian Movements: Transoceanic Comparisons of New Religious Movements. Edited by G.W. Trompf. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, 1990.
Anthropologist Lamont Lindstrom has written extensively on the subject of cargo cults. His work was invaluable for helping me understand the power of cargo in the Melanesian worldview. He has also cataloged and analyzed an impressive list of items that various Melanesian respondents note as particularly impressive cargo.
Raffaele, Paul. "In John They Trust." Smithsonian Magazine, February 2006. URL (Accessed July 10, 2017).
Rice, Edward. John Frum He Come: A Polemical Work About a Black Tragedy. Garden City, NY: Doubleday and Company, 1974.
Rice's work synthesizes excerpts from primary sources and interviews to create a rather interesting read. It is definitely important as a foundation text in the study of John Frum, and it includes some compelling stories that I drew from in writing the podcast episode.
Tabani, Marc. "The Carnival of Custom: Land Dives, Millenarian Parades and Other Spectacular Ritualizations in Vanuatu." Oceania 80, no. 3 (2010).
Tabani, Marc. "Dreams of Unity, Traditions of Division: John Frum, 'kastom' and Inter-Manipulation Strategies as Cultural Heritage on Tanna (Vanuatu)." Paideuma: Mitteilungen zur Kulturkunde 55 (2009).
Tabani's work was particularly important because it chronicles a much later period in John Frum's existence. I consulted his articles to help understand the intricacies underlying the split in the movement that took place around the start of the new millennium. The two largest branches of John Frum are now led by Chief Isaac Wan and Prophet Fred Nase who express a mutual aversion and distrust of each other.