Sociology Index


Cargo cult describes any new religious movement that is a result of encounter between a hunter-gatherer society and Western civilization, though it is generally used in the context of New Guinea and Melanesia. Cargo cult is a form of millenarian movement that believes in what is to come, particularly found in the islands of Melanesia in the South Pacific. Cargo cults involve the belief that ritual activities and observances will lead to the arrival of free ‘cargoes’ of goods. E E. Williams characterized what was to be called the Cargo Cult phenomenon as a kind of madness. Cargo Cults often develop as a movement under the leadership of a charismatic figure. The cargo cult Tuka Movement began in Fiji in 1885 at the height of the UK's colonial plantation era. Cargo cults were a series of movements that occurred in the late nineteenth century.

Cargo Cults and Rituals

The cargo cults are a development from the indigenous belief that necessary goods and animals for food and supplies are released by the gods or guardian spirits when the people have completed proper ritual observances. In cargo cults adherents practice superstitious rituals in the belief that such rituals will bring modern goods from a advanced society.  

The cargo cults show the influence of the modern world in that the cargoes are expected to arrive by boat or plane as do the goods and supplies used by white immigrants and colonizers. a characteristic feature of cargo cults is the belief that spiritual agents will, at some future time, give much valuable cargo and desirable manufactured products to the cult members.

The cargo cults have proved to be enduring even when cargo does not materialize, since this is seen as a sign that ritual observation and activity has been inadequate or inappropriate. It is widely held that cargo cults do not really exist as a discrete phenomena.

Cargo Cults Articles

Cargo cults and discursive madness - Oceania, Jun 2000 by Dalton, Doug.
Understood as mimetic portrayals of the image of unlimited good projected by European colonial culture, Melanesian 'cargo cults' are therefore viewed as 'irrational' within indigenous understandings. Western anthropological discourse has sought to functionally normalize and nativize cargo cult behavior at the expense of denying their nonrational character.

The result has been a lexical and semantic uncertainty and explanatory instability in cargo cult discourse that can be analyzed as a type of discursive madness. A strategy of reading the 'madness' of cargo cult discourse is outlined and applied to key anthropological texts, in particular Peter Worsley's The Trumpet Shall Sound. 

Capitalizing on Complicity: Cargo Cults and the Spirit of Modernity on Bali Island (West New Britain) - Andrew Lattas.

Abstract: Using the cargo cult movement of Dakoa on Bali Island, this article explores the relationship between history and the other forms of human time articulated in cargo cult practices, beliefs, and myths of origins. This relationship often entails the collapsing of historical time into biographical time.

It involves Dakoa's cargo cult taking up Western notions of kingship and the Christian figures of God, Jesus, and Moses, all of whom are merged with the heroic structure of traditional myths. Many of the cargo cult's new important spirit beings are extensions of the cargo cult leader Dakoa, whose personhood embodies a history and provides a model for a new, pacified Melanesian self capable of reincorporating the globalizing processes of modernity.

Cargo Cult in a Western Town: A Cultural Approach to Episodic Change 
Burns, Allen F. Abstract: A social, cultural, and often religious movement directed at improving community spiritual and material life, the cargo cult is discussed as a principle of community organization effecting positive change. This article reviews the cargo cults of Oceania and applies the concept to a small western town.