Cargo Cult
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Basic Information

Most common in the Southwestern Pacific region of the world, a cargo cult is any group or religious movement that believes manufactured western goods ('cargo') have been created by ancestral spirits and are intended for their people alone. Cult members believe that white people have unfairly gained control of these objects and, thus, focus on overcoming what they perceive as undue 'white' influences by conducting rituals similar to the white behavior they have observed, presuming that the ancestors will at last recognize their own and send them cargo.

A characteristic feature of cargo cults is the belief that spiritual agents will at some future time give much valuable cargo and desirable manufactured products to the cult members. In attempts to get cargo to fall by parachute or land in planes or ships again, islanders imitate the same practices they have seen the soldiers, sailors and airmen use. They carve headphones from wood, and wear them while sitting in fabricated control towers on imaginary runways. They light signal fires and torches to light up these runways and lighthouses. The cultists think that the foreigners have some special connection to their own ancestors, who were the only beings powerful enough to produce such riches.


Game and Story Use

  • The cargo cults are right, after a fashion — the ancestral spirits of their homelands can be summoned and bound. For a price. A damnable price. A price that far too many Western entrepreneurs have willingly paid.
    • Before leaving for the Great War, Desmond Taylor was considered a loser, but his time in the South Pacific changed him. Upon his return to the States, he built a business empire seemingly overnight, driving many formerly successful businessmen out of the market. What could the secret to Desmond's success be? You've been hired to find out!
  • In your fantasy world, do you have any major civilizations with more advanced technology or magic? Introduce some cargo cults there - and watch the reaction of the player characters as they discover just why the natives consider their plate mail and steel weapon to be stolen from their ancestors…
  • As an interesting possibility, the PCs stumble across what appears to be a cargo cult. Then they find out that the cult's traditions are far older than they should be, possibly predating their own culture…
  • The real world versions of these things are surprisingly complex, but a fictional version could come about from something as simple as a couple of misdirected supply drops into a remote area - some kind of map reading error leading to a series of supply cannisters being dropped onto the territory of an uncontacted tribe could play merry havoc with their cosmology. After all, if you are a stone age tribal who has never seen an aircraft before, how do you interpret one suddenly appearing, probably quite low, and dropping cases of … stuff … on you? Especially if it comes back and makes a repeat drop from time to time…
  • Or the contrary effect of area bombing rather then cargo drops - cluster bombs are as alien to a stone age culture as crates of MREs but will have very different effects on their mythology…
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