Sometimes our experience exceeds our ability to describe it. I remember sitting in the grass one afternoon in Uria Village, whiling away the hours talking with friends. There is a lot of curiosity towards our upbringing as we are obviously foreign to most Papua New Guineans. They were asking what winter was like. Uria Village sits 5 degrees 28 minutes south of the equator. It is situated on a small plateau on the side of a jungle covered mountain. It rains around 200 inches of rain during an average year, sometimes more. The temperature, depending upon wet or dry season varies from the mid to upper nineties during the day to the mid-to lower 70’s at night. The humidity hovers between 80% and 100%. In dry season the humidity can drop as low as 55% to 60%–which is when our skin starts cracking open and becoming chapped from the lack of moisture (seriously). How does one explain an upper Midwest winter?
The Somau Garia are known in anthropological circles as a textbook example of cargo cult. In the 1940’s they witnessed the edges of the Japanese occupation of New Guinea. Fighters and bombers buzzed overhead, the Japanese forces placed anti-aircraft batteries on some of the neighboring mountain tops to shoot down Allied air power. They saw tanks and jeeps and aircraft and it made little to no sense to most. In the 1950’s a powerful leader named Yali gathered a following by spreading a myth about two brothers, one white and one black, who had a disagreement. According to the myth, the white brother left and went to Australia where he learned the magic necessary to produce things like cars and other manufactured goods. The black brother stayed behind in New Guinea where he preserved the traditional ways. According to the myth, the white brother will someday return, bringing the secret ritual needed to magically produce the cargo (manufactured goods). Yali claimed that the prophecy had been fulfilled and that the coming of cars, aircraft, tractors, trade goods (like machetes, shovels, steel cooking pots, stoves, etc.) were the evidence. Yali, among others, had seen things that he did not understand and came up with an explanation based on his culture and experience. His cult became so disruptive to local society that Australian administration officials flew Yali to Australia and had him tour an automotive factory. Rather than being convinced of his error, he came back to New Guinea more convinced than ever of his cargo ideas.
The cargo myth remains to this day with many Somau Garia-speaking people. The people holding to this myth seek to gain access to manufactured goods through use of ritual; what we in the West would call magic. They consider access to manufactured goods as evidence of spiritual superiority and advantage. They consider Christianity as a means to discover the secret to the cargo. Not all Somau Garia people hold to this notion, but many influential Somau Garia people do.
There is no single, simple way to correct this error. It is a multi-faceted problem. However, the first step is to offer Truth. Truth, as revealed in the Scriptures, offers a hope that transcends possessions, position, health, etc. Truth, as found in the Scriptures, has the best chance of being integrated into life if it exists in the language that speaks to the heart. The Holy Spirit will use the Scripture to convict, to correct, to rebuke, and bring those folks to repentance.
Of all sins, we Western Christians surely understand the destructive lie that goods will give us what we need for peace and happiness. Though we know that they never will, we still fall prey to the false hope that they might.
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