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Vanuatu, islands of fire, coral and strange worship

To the East of Australia, Vanuatu, comprising some 80 islands shaping a Y in the Pacific ocean and better known by its former name of the New Hebrides, has been independent since 1980. It is now a parliamentary republic of 200 000 inhabitants, mostly Melanesians.
From Port-Villa, capital of the Efate island that one can take a flight to Tanna. The British navigator James Cook was the first European to set foot on the big southern island of Tanna, in August 1774, attracted by the red light of the volcano of mount Yasur which dominates the village of Ipeukel, where the ones called “John Frum” gather.
The story of this strange worship starts with the war in the Pacific, when the Americans arrive in the archipelago in May 1942, as the Japanese just conquered the Salomon islands nearby. The culture shock is huge, as the GI’s give out clothes, beds, refrigerators…At the end of the war, the Americans left as quickly as they arrived, leaving behind some of their equipment.
And this is how John Frum (John from America) appeared, symbol of the generous- and black- soldier who went back to his world in a cargo…and is supposed to be back some day on a great ship filled with extraordinary objects. Today, every Friday night, under the protective branches of a huge banyan tree, the adepts still gather : the women dance, dressed in colorful skirts, and the men sing, playing the guitar, to celebrate the return of this mythical American. On this bay surrounded by sulfide smoking cliffs, the stars and stripes still flutter.

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