In 1914, on the island of Saibai in the Torres Strait of southern Melanesia, local people prophesied that a steamship would soon arrive from beyond the horizon bringing the spirits of dead ancestors and great quantities of desirable cargo to the natives and thus transforming the increasingly unequal relation between European colonizers and colonized Melanesians. For several decades, such “cargo cults” stirred throughout Melanesia. Similar ideas can be traced back to the 1880s, but they became particularly prominent in the decade following the Second World War, after which the anticipated ships were often replaced by airplanes. The coveted goods, including everything from tinned food to fashlights, rifes, refrigerators, and automobiles, were held to be manufactured by dead ancestors. To prepare for their arrival, Melanesians constructed superfcial copies of docks, airstrips, warehouses, and radio masts using whatever materials they could muster.
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