During WWII, the Melanesian islanders observed, often directly in front of their dwellings, the largest war ever fought by technologically advanced nations. This small population of indigenous people thought the misplaced cargo parachute-drops were being delivered to them were from their dead ancestors. The Japanese arrived first with a great deal of supplies. Later the Allied forces followed.
The large amounts of military equipment and supplies that both sides airdropped (or airlifted to airstrips) to troops on these islands brought drastic changes to the lifestyle of the islanders, many of whom had never seen outsiders before. Manufactured clothing, medicine, canned food, tents, weapons and other goods arrived in vast quantities for the soldiers, were often shared with the islanders who were their guides and hosts.
As the war concluded, the military abandoned the airbases and stopped dropping cargo. In response, charismatic individuals developed cults among remote Melanesian populations that promised to bestow on their follower’s deliveries of food, arms, Jeeps, etc. Cult leaders explained that the cargo would be gifts from their own ancestors, as had occurred with the outsider armies. In attempts to get cargo to fall by parachute or land in planes or ships again, islanders imitated the same practices they had seen the soldiers, sailors, and airmen use. These mimicked the day-to-day activities and dress styles of US soldiers, such as performing parade ground drills with wooden or salvaged rifles. The islanders carved headphones from wood and wore them while sitting in fabricated control towers. They waved the landing signals while standing on the runways. Many built life-size replicas of airplanes out of straw and cut new military-style landing strips out of the jungle, hoping to attract more airplanes.