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April 15 , 2010

Cargo Cult as Theater

Political Performance in the Pacific


Why did half the people on New Hanover, a small island north of New Guinea, vote for Lyndon Baines Johnson to be their ruler in 1964? Dorothy K. Billings believes that this sort of action_seen in New Guinea and other parts of Melanesia_is part of the 'cargo cult' phenomenon, or micronationalist movements which are principally regarded as responses to European colonialism. Based on thirty-five years of fieldwork and observation, Cargo Cult as Theater demonstrates how the 'Johnson Cult,' originally mocked and ridiculed by the outside world, should be seen as an ongoing political performance meant to consolidate local power and advance economic development. This fascinating study follows the changes in this community ritual, from the time of the white 'master' to post-colonial self-determination, and reveals the history of this people's attempt to gain intellectual, moral, economic, and political control over their own lives.

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