Cargo cult - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:
The classic period of cargo cult activity, however, was in the years during and after World War II. The vast amounts of war matériel that were airdropped into these islands during the Pacific campaign against the Empire of Japan necessarily meant drastic changes to the lifestyle of the islanders. Manufactured clothing, canned food, tents, weapons and other useful goods arrived in vast quantities to equip soldiers—and also the islanders who were their guides and hosts. By the end of the war the airbases were abandoned, and "cargo" was no longer being dropped.
In attempts to get cargo to fall by parachute or land in planes or ships again, islanders imitated the same practices they had seen the soldiers, sailors and airmen use. They carved headphones from wood, and wore them while sitting in fabricated control towers. They waved the landing signals while standing on the runways. They lit signal fires and torches to light up runways and lighthouses. The cultists thought that the foreigners had some special connection to their own ancestors, who were the only beings powerful enough to produce such riches.
In a form of sympathetic magic, many built life-size mockups of airplanes out of straw, and created new military style landing strips, hoping to attract more airplanes. Ultimately, though these practices did not bring about the return of the god-like airplanes that brought such marvelous cargo during the war, they did serve to eradicate the religious practices that had existed prior to the war.
Over the last seventy-five years most cargo cults have petered out. Yet, the John Frum cult is still active on the island of Tanna, Vanuatu.