from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 5th Edition.

  • noun One of a number of religious movements arising in Melanesia and New Guinea especially as a result of the influx of American military materiel during the 1940s, seeking to usher in an age of great material wealth by ritually imitating the behaviors of Americans or Europeans.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.

  • noun Any of several unorthodox religious movements among the people of Melanesia based upon Western manufactured goods.
  • noun figuratively Any of several philosophies or pseudosciences that are not rooted in experiment

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • noun a religious cult that anticipates a time of joy, serenity, and justice when salvation comes
  • noun (Melanesia) the followers of one of several millenarian cults that believe salvation will come in the form of wealth (`cargo') brought by westerners; some ascribe divine attributes to westerners on first contact (especially to missionaries)


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  • A cargo cult is any of a group of unorthodox religious movements appearing in tribal societies in the wake of Western impact, especially in New Guinea and Melanesia. Cargo cults sometimes maintain that manufactured western goods ("cargo") have been created by divine spirits and are intended for the local indigenous people, but that Westerners have unfairly gained control of these objects. Cargo cults thus focus on overcoming what they perceive as undue 'white' influences by conducting rituals similar to the white behavior they have observed, presuming that the ancestors will at last recognize their own and send them cargo. Thus a characteristic feature of cargo cults is the belief that spiritual agents will at some future time give much valuable cargo and desirable manufactured products to the cult members. In other instances such as on the island of Tanna in Vanuatu, cult members worship Americans who brought the cargo.

    Based on the above definition, cargo cult is also used in business and science to refer to a particular type of fallacy whereby ill-considered effort and ceremony takes place but goes unrewarded due to a flawed model of causation. For example, Maoism has been referred to as "cargo cult Leninism" and New Zealand's optimistic adoption of liberal economic policies in the 1980s as "cargo cult capitalism".


    July 16, 2007

  • See John Frum. :-)

    July 16, 2007

  • Great reference and definition. Reference to WWII events?

    January 20, 2009

  • Cargo-cult programming: The act of copying computer code from one context and expecting it to work in another context without understanding why it worked in its original context.

    September 18, 2015