Zum Inhalt springen

Stranger-Kings in Tanna (Vanuatu) – Westerners as Cargo Cult Leaders

Donnerstag, 19. Jänner 2023, 18.30h

Vortrag von Dr. Marc Tabani, Direktor des CREDO Marseille

Ort: HS A, Institut für Kultur- und Sozialanthropologie, Universitätsstraße 7/ NIG/ 4. Stock, 1010 Wien, Vortragssprache: Englisch

The island of Tanna in Vanuatu has attracted several generations of anthropologists, film-makers and travel writers since the post-war period, paving the way for an uninterrupted flow of tourists a few decades later. Most professional observers have invariably been fascinated by the story of John Frum, a supernatural figure whose prophecies gave rise to a widespread indigenous social protest movement during the Second World War, which has persisted to the present day. While anthropologists and historians have endeavoured to analyse the causes, nature and possible developments of this movement, particularly in comparison with other similar manifestations in Melanesia, writers and film-makers have preferred presenting the John Frum movement as a perfect expression of the mysterious South Pacific “cargo cult” and actively contributed to shape the image of Tanna and its inhabitants for a worldwide audience. This iconisation of the syncretic and messianic figure of John Frum according to primitivist perceptions in Western popular culture and the broad media coverage it received, also resulted in the involvement of foreign personalities or actors in the construction of the John Frum movement as a cargo cult. The purpose of this presentation is twofold. Firstly, to examine the history of those outsiders, public figures, administrators, adventurers, indigenous leaders, film-makers and swindlers who in one way or another have either been associated with the figure of John Frum or who has deliberately attempted to personify and embody this spirit. The analysis of this spiritualist quest in Tanna will be extended in a broader comparative perspective: to assess the contribution of Melanesian millenarian movements to the anthropological theme of the ’stranger-king‘.

Marc Tabani is an anthropologist, Senior Research Fellow at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) and the director of the Centre de Recherche et de Documentation sur l’Océanie (CREDO) in Marseille. He has conducted his research in Vanuatu and especially in the island of Tanna since 1993. His main topics have been politics of identity and tradition, cultural change, cultural ideologies, indigenous movements, millenarianism, Islam in Vanuatu.

Marc Tabani has published several articles in French and English and edited three volumes in French (2002, Les pouvoirs de la coutume à Vanuatu : traditionalisme et édification nationale and 2008, Une pirogue pour le paradis : le culte de John Frum à Tanna, john Frum : Histoires de Tanna). He is also editor and co-author of the French version of Histri blong yumi: an history of Vanuatu in four volumes (2010-1012) and editor of two special issue of the Journal de la Société des Océanistes (30 years of Vanuatu’s independence 2011; with Lamont Lindstrom: Jean Guiart: ethnography as a life marathon 2022) and an ASAO monograph, Kago, Kastom and Kalja: The Study of Indigenous Movements in Melanesia Today.