Vanuatu cargo cult marks 50 years

Tanna, Vanuatu - One of the world's last surviving cargo cults is celebrating its official 50th anniversary on Tanna island in Vanuatu.

The John Frum Movement worships a mysterious spirit that urged them to reject the teachings of the Church and maintain their traditional customs.

The cult was reinforced during WWII, when US forces landed with huge amounts of cargo - weapons, food and medicine.

Villagers believe the spirit of John Frum sent the US military to their South Pacific home to help them.

Devotees say that an apparition of John Frum first appeared before tribal elders in the 1930s.

He urged them to rebel against the aggressive teachings of Christian missionaries and instead said they should put their faith in their own customs.

Stars and Stripes

World War II and the arrival of American troops on Vanuatu was a turning point for the John Frum Movement.

Villagers believe that their messiah was responsible for sending the generous US military and its cargo to them.

Speaking in local pidgin, the movement's head, Chief Isaac Wan, said that John Frum was a god who would one day return. He's "our God, our Jesus," he said.

Islanders are convinced that John Frum was an American. Every year they parade in home-made US army uniforms beneath the Stars and Stripes.

They hope one day to entice another delivery of cargo.

This 50th anniversary marks the formal establishment of the John Frum Movement.

It also recognises the day when villagers raised the American flag for the first time in this isolated corner of the South Pacific.