Jon Frum is a figure associated with cargo cults on the island of Tanna in Vanuatu. He is depicted as an American World War II serviceman, who will bring wealth and prosperity to the people if they follow him. He is sometimes portrayed as black, sometimes as white; from David Attenborough's report of an encounter: "'E look like you. 'E got white face. 'E tall man. 'E live 'long South America."
The religion arose in the 1930s, when Vanuatu was known as the New Hebrides. It is not known whether it arose spontaneously or was deliberately created; nor is it clear whether an individual named "Jon Frum" existed. The name is sometimes considered a corruption of "Jon from (America)", which the natives heard from US GIs during World War II. The surname Frum is rare in the English-speaking world; it does not appear at all in either the 1851 or 1901 censuses of the United Kingdom, although there may have been a Jon "Frumm" or "Frumme" or "Fromme," which are common German and Jewish family names (frum ≈ devotional, religious).Some people living around Sulphur Bay on Tanna revere a god named Kerapenmun associated with the extinct volcano Mount Tukosmeru; the attributes of this god likely influenced the development of the Jon Frum movement. A native named Manehivi, under the alias of Jon Frum, began the cult by appearing among people and making promises of houses, clothes, food, and transport. He promised the dawn of a new age, in which all white people, including missionaries, would leave the New Hebrides (as they were then known), and that the native Melanesians would gain access to the material wealth which white people enjoyed. For this to happen, the people of Tanna should reject all aspects of European society (money, Western education, Christianity, work on copra plantations) and return to traditional kastom (a word for native Tannese customs).
In 1941, followers of Jon Frum rid themselves of their money in a frenzy of spending, left the missionary churches, schools, villages and plantations, and moved further inland to celebrate traditional custom through feasts, dances and rituals. The movement gained popularity in the 1940s when some 300,000 American troops established themselves in Vanuatu. The islanders were impressed both by the egalitarianism of the Americans and their obvious wealth and power. This led them to conflate perceived benefactors such as Uncle Sam, Santa Claus and John the Baptist into a mythic figure who would empower the island peoples by giving them cargo wealth. Followers of Jon Frum built symbolic landing strips to encourage American aeroplanes to land and bring them "cargo". In 1957, a leader of the John Frum movement, Nakomaha, created the "Tanna Army", a non-violent, ritualistic organisation which organised military-style parades, their faces painted in ritual colours, and wearing white t-shirts with the letters "T-A USA" (Tanna Army USA). This parade still takes place every year on February 15.
The power of Jon Frum appeared to be confirmed by the post-war influx of tourists to the region, who brought with them a degree of material prosperity to the islands. The cult is still active today. The followers believe that Jon Frum will come back on a February 15 (the year of his return is not known), a date which is observed as "Jon Frum Day" in Vanuatu.In the late 1970s, Jon Frum followers opposed the imminent creation of an independent, united nation of Vanuatu. They objected to a centralised government which they feared would favour Western "modernity" and Christianity, felt to be detrimental to local customs. The Jon Frum movement has its own political party, led by Song Keaspai. On Jon Frum Day in February 2007, the Jon Frum Movement celebrated its 50th anniversary. Chief Isaak Wan Nikiau, its leader, was quoted by the BBC from years past as saying that Jon Frum was "our God, our Jesus," and would eventually return.