08 January, 2015

It's a new year in cargo cult land

Melbourne Herald Sun, January 8, 2015

Every new year, for eight years, I have visited the primitive society where our happy nation of simple folk live, enjoying the gifts of their our magical cargo cult.

Just like the natives of New Guinea who believed their wartime prosperity with plane loads of food, machines, trinkets and clothes arriving from across the sea, would continue for ever, we believe the same story.

It's our cargo cult economy. The world gives us more and more - cars, stores full of beautiful clothes; stoves, pots and pans and fancy goods; container loads of food, phones, TVs, trinkets and mirrors. We just sit back and receive, signing the chits. We don't have to do anything for these gifts, just let the donors take whatever they want.

Last year, though, the tribe became dissatisfied with the gifts. There was too much fighting within the old chief's family. So as always, we executed the old chief, and responded to the new chief's aggressive prayers.

He told us gifts of cargo were being wasted on medicine men, the unproductive young, and in feeding the old. They were pushed to the edges of the tribe to beg for scraps.

Now the cargo would be just for the deserving. But what's this - the gods don't want so much of our rocks and dirt any more. They're digging up less and in turn they have reduced the amount of cargo they'll send us. Calamity!

The mood of the tribe is turning angry. Where are all the plane loads of booty our new leader promised us? He hastily consulted the gods on his coconut shell telephone and responded: To appease the gods they demand we make them more infrastructure. They want to see our sincerity by how much we can build.

So teams of tribesmen will carve new tracks through the forest. A banana plantation will be chopped down to create a new landing strip. Hundreds of grass huts will be built.

Groups of manmeri (men and women) had been making stone axes and ceremonial clothes for the tribe, for generations, but they were pushed away to make room for the new giant straw and bamboo towers that will soon dominate the skyline. Any clothes or implements we need will arrive amongst the abundance of booty that the cargo will bring.

The Tribal Drumbeating Corporation is also being cut back, it makes the natives too restless and asks silly questions like "is there really a Cargo God?". So the tribe had a great feast on a few hundred of their drummers, leaving yet more booty for the rest of us.
In any case, the containers have thousands of discs to view and the plastic masks from Disney are much lighter than the old ones of wood and cowrie shells.

Of course there are always grumblers in the tribe. Complaining that we are cutting back too much of the jungle, digging the wrong holes or making too much smoke with the burning-off.

They even say, one day the gifts will end. But we know that the gods will always bring new cargo to our island. We'll just make sure that no canoes from the other islands ever make it onto our beaches. Turn back or be barbecued, this is Cargo Cult Land. Here's wishing a Happy New Cult to you all.

No comments: