As the tide turned in World War Two, the US went on the offensive against the Japanese in the Pacific and inadvertently spawned a new religion, cargo cults. So how did this happen? Well Air superiority was key to winning the war in the Pacific, so US forces quickly established airbases on Pacific islands like Papua. The airfields became immense logistical centres, shipping supplies, personnel and everything else necessary to provision an army at war and fight the Japanese in the skies. As the Japanese retreated the Americans packed up and shipped out, following hotly on the tails of the retreating Japanese. The runways were abandoned and anything of value flown out, but they left a lasting impression and spawned cargo cults.
What the Papuans saw
It had all been a bit like Christmas. Thousands of people had come to their lands, and most of them came from the sky. They brought goods, food and clothing, then they left. The reason why was a bit of a mystery. There was only one thing to do, build new airbases and start to pray.
Obviously the natives didn’t have all of the necessary materials to recreate these airbases, but they improvised. Landing strips were cleared out of forests, structures were built out of grass and prayers given. Unfortunately they had limited success at attracting planes, but the cargo cults phenomenon developed.