cargo cult, native religious movement found in Melanesia and New Guinea, holding that at the millennium the spirits of the dead will return and bring with them cargoes of modern goods for distribution among its adherents. The cult had its beginnings in the 19th cent. and received great impetus from World War II, when the Western armed forces littered the islands with surplus cargo. The cult aims to restore a past time and to regain the goodwill of ancestors who are being lured into giving cargo to the white foreigners, cargo originally intended for the native Melanesians. Cargo cults are revivalistic, in that the adherents expect the restoration of a golden age in which they will be reunited with their ancestors, and nativistic (see nativism), in that the whites are to be driven away. However, as the cargo is composed principally of European goods, and native goods and rituals are abandoned, both the nativistic and revivalistic aspects of cargo cults are qualified by a strong motive toward acculturation.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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