New Guinea Island Wants to “Buy” Lyndon Johnson

A curious piece of political theater broke out in Papua New Guinea in that had a tax resistance component:

Natives Raise Funds

New Guinea Island Wants to “Buy” LBJ

 A group of anti-Austrialian Papuans of New Hanover Island are raising a fund to buy President Johnson.

They want the American President to take over their little island 300 miles northeast of Australian New Guinea. They expect him to bring vast riches.

To swell their purchase fund, they are refusing to pay the head tax of 2 pounds ($4.48 a year[)]. The movement reportedly has 2,500 members.

The Australian administration has sent District Commissioner Mick Healey and more than 40 armed police to New Hanover from neighboring New Ireland Island. New Hanover has a population of 8,000 Papuans and a dozen uneasy whites.

The leader of the so-called Johnson Cult is a 20-year-old Papuan “prophet” named Bosmialek who worked for a U.S. Air Force survey team on New Hanover earlier this year.

So far the cultists have shown no sign of violence but there could be trouble if, as expected in Port Moresby, the administration starts arresting tax evaders by the hundreds.

Here is a sober recap of the Johnson Cult phenomenon. Excerpts:

As the first anthropologist to ever live with the islanders, [Dorothy] Billings eventually came to realise that the “President Johnson cult” was no such thing; in fact, it was a tax protest movement that had no intention of ever “buying” Johnson, and could not be described as a cult by any common definition of the term. As anthropologist Harvey Whitehouse notes of Billings’s findings: “It had no rituals, no deities, no sacred objects, no elaborate doctrines, no epiphanic revelations, miracles, possessions, or visitations. It spawned no prophets, mediums, or messiahs, and had no need of gurus, priests, or other cult officials. Indeed, it is hard to imagine why such a movement should have been saddled with the ‘cult’ label, were it not for the fact that it occurred in Melanesia, well known for its many sensational(ised) cargo cults.”