Pacific church members await the return of American pilot. UPI Special Report: Winds of Ch

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Pacific church members await the return of American pilot. UPI Special Report: Winds of Change in the Pacific (940-picture) adv sun july 19 or thereafter By STEWART SLAVIN SULPHUR BAY, Vanuatu (UPI) _ In the shadow of a volcano on the island of Tanna, members wearing Rambo T-shirts and U.S. Army patches spend their days praying for the return of an American pilot named John Frum. Across the island in a remote jungle village, bare-breasted women in grass skirts and men clad only in "nambas," or penis sheaths, worship Britain's Prince Philip and sacred stones that they believe can kill their enemies. The 25,000 people who live on Tanna, one of the more far-flung islands in the archipelago nation of Vanuatu, have largely replaced Christianity with sects. They have rejected the organized religion embraced by their ancestors, who practiced cannibalism before missionaries arrived a century ago. "The whole island had been converted to Presbyterianism early this century and then John Frum showed up and ruined everything," said Tom Numake, 48, head chief of Tanna and a former "witch doctor" who abandoned black magic for Christianity 10 years ago. John Frum was "a white man who wore an aviator's helmet and had a chestful of American medals," said Numake. The American flier showed up on Tanna around 1935, when he met Numake's grandfather, Noklam Matua. "At first, my grandfather started to run away because it was the first white man he had ever seen," Numake said. "But John Frum waved and said, `Come back, I have a message to give you."' Frum's "message" was that the Melanesian islanders should "destroy what the missionaries have brought you. Burn your clothes, forsake Christianity and return to your native ways," Numake recalled. "My grandfather shook his hand and became his disciple. He felt this was a real god in flesh and blood, unlike Christ, whom he had never seen." The island's Presbyterian missionary called Frum "the devil, the anti-Christ." But Noklam Matua refused to listen and spent five years in jail along with other church members. He was released at the outbreak of World War II, when more than 100,000 U.S. troops began arriving in the islands in preparation for a drive against Japanese forces to the north. Matua and other villagers were recruited to unload tons of war supplies from Navy ships, and received dog tags, military badges and other U.S. souvenirs for their efforts. "John Frum told his followers to look toward America for wealth that would come in ships, and this seemed to be the first proof," Numake explained. "John Frum came and went from our island many times in planes and ships, saying he was going off to fight some battle, but always promising to return. But after the war, he never came back." The sect's stronghold is Sulphur Bay, on the coast of Tanna in the shadow of the Yasur volcano, a 1,184-foot-high peak that periodically rumbles to life and belches black ash, cinders and rocks. Some so-called "cargo sectists" believe the pilot dwells beneath the volcano with thousands of other GIs who some day will rise through the cone to deliver trucks and refrigerators and other conveniences of Western life. One adherent, Chief Isaac I, told a recent visitor, "I saw John Frum this morning and he was telling me about a truck coming to pick up one of our chiefs for a trip to the other side of the island." The chief, whose shirt bore a U.S. Army patch, said only the village's high chiefs are able to see Frum, a privilege they earned by abstaining from sex and from drinking kava, a potent narcotic drink brewed from a pepper root. Sulphur Bay has a John Frum Church and a secret hut that only chiefs may enter. On a table inside stands a simple American vase holding five marigolds. "When we want to make a call to another village or island, we simply pick up one of the flowers and talk into it like a telephone," said Isaac I. "John Frum has given us the power to speak through the flowers." Every Feb. 15, hundreds of church members with "USA" painted on their naked backs and carrying long sticks representing rifles stage a military-style march. They used to raise the American flag, but the government banned that practice after independence in 1980. The Frum sectists are not alone. In deep jungle on the other side of the island, a Prince Philip sect has sprung up in a village whose 50 inhabitants trace their ancestry to the prince. "Thousands of years ago," said the 25-year-old son of Chief Naiva, "a member of our village went to England and married into Prince Philip's family." About 10 years ago, the village sent a wooden club to Prince Philip, who had his picture taken with it and sent the photo back. The photo is kept in a special box in the chief's hut, and brought out only for ceremonies in which the villagers pray for Philip to visit them. Numake said black magic, particularly the use of supposedly deadly sacred stones, is also still practiced on the 30-mile-long island, which boasts the largest native population in the 82-island chain. "The last death occurred four years ago," he said. "The offenders used a sacred stone shaped like a heart and containing several holes. They put herbs in the holes and then called out the victim's name. He died of a heart attack three minutes later." "We settled the case under tribal law," he said. "His family was given pigs, some grass skirts and a 12-year-old girl from the offending village to start a new family."


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