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The Fantastic Invasion is the story of the Tanna, the people on an island two thousand miles northeast of Australia, told largely through translation by an unnamed elder. Prior to the late-19th Century, “We didn’t want for anything,” he says. “All our needs were met from the world in which we lived.” This was the time the people called Lepro.
“The forest provided everything,” the speaker explains. “All our needs were satisfied, and we wanted for nothing. And as we wanted for nothing, so all men and women were equal, and there was no strife…But then you found us.”
He continues, “The vision of our past is beyond time. It’s not a chronology, but a movement in space that comes and goes…And this is how it happened, which we have decided to tell you in our own way, with my own people playing all the parts, black and white.”
The Fantastic Invasion details the history of a cargo cult from the inside. It would be a compelling story if only an isolated incident. What makes these forty-six minutes of film sublime is that their story is our story, a comprehensive microcosm indicative of the bigger picture.
“You first came looking for us because your aboriginal brothers refused to work on your plantations. You had outlawed slavery, but you quickly found a substitute: indentured labor.”
Visions of credit cards may well pop up for some viewers.
“You showed us things that we never believed could have existed. You said that they could be ours, too, if we came to work for you.”
The technologically advanced culture impressed the invaded people, who keenly noted the bringing of “weapons that can kill in a way killing has never been done before.” Cargo included all manner of strange items that left the people in awe. They noticed that the white men did not make these things, but obtained them by writing on a piece of paper. Then a ship would appear, bearing more amazing items, a ship that kept its distance, as if guarding the secret of the white man’s endless cargo.
The people were told to hide their bodies. They consented to clothes considering that perhaps then they would understand the secret of the cargo.
Subsequent to “not civilizing, but Syphilizing,” the white man promptly dehumanized the people, returning home with fictions of cannibalism as a product of rationalizing abuse.
Having never heard of World War II or Guadalcanal, one day the people saw wave after wave of American soldiers appear. “The Americans changed our way of thinking about ourselves,” the chronicler asserts. “To the people of America, there appeared to be no difference in the status of races.”
“Hi,” a US soldier would say, “I’m John from New York,” or, “I’m John from California.”
When the war ended, the Americans left as suddenly as they had arrived. Then, years later, a story developed…and became a religion.
The result is a BBC documentary produced and directed by Nigel Evans that changes the way we think about ourselves.
Stewart Kirby writes for