JOHN FRUM HE COME by Edward Rice


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Rice calls his book ""a state of mind, a way of life, a mythology, a mythos, a myth-dream,"" in its attempt to document white oppression of New Hebrideans and their resilience as manifested in the ""Cargo cult""; but it is more a delirious tirade against whites ""going about their business of being white, that is, explorative, fascistic, and murderous, forcing their ways upon others and robbing the rest of the world of land, resources, cultural objects, and even soul-force."" Rice, himself white, says, ""The white, no matter how liberal or radical, still thinks it is right to help the 'unfortunates' of the world,"" but for some reason he believes himself to be an exception. He sketches the messianic sect flourishing in Tanna, which syncretizes ""Christianity and Tanna Custom, with a touch of western materialism"" in its belief that the advent of John Frum -- perhaps a corruption of John Brown -- will bring to the Tannese material wonders denied them. The body Of the text consists of chants, conversations, and prayers of the residents, and records of missionaries, explorers, and administrators; but Rice's sources are inadequately identified, and they are reliable only ""if you accept what people believe in their own heads as truth to be 'true.' "" The book fails: his selections are jejune; in berating white colonialists he beats a dead horse; in celebrating John Frum he cants (""Are we not all ephemeral? Do I not believe in you, reader? or myself?""). In short, the injustices of white colonization call for a response more clearheaded and rigorous than the one Rice offers.

Pub Date: March 18th, 1974
Publisher: Doubleday