Tanna is a tiny island located in the South Pacific island chain of Vanuatu formerly known as the New Hebrides. In the early 1900s, the island was governed by both the British and French as the locale was too remote for them to bother fighting over. Instead, they enacted an oppressive regime and sent missionaries who brutalized the natives and burned down their villages in an effort to force them to convert to Christianity and abandon their traditional customs.
During World War II, Americans arrived for the first time in Vanuatu and impressed the natives with their advanced technology, generous gifts, and warm regard. Instead of dominating or forcing religious ideologies upon them, American soldiers treated the Tannese with dignity and respect, and donated medical supplies, food, clothes, and other necessities. In addition, the Tannese were amazed to see black officers among the ranks.
America became their beacon of hope against the European occupiers and a resistance movement that had begun before the war assumed religious dimensions that now included America. A mysterious figure named John Frum emerged who embodied these sentiments. After the war, the United States left and the John Frum spirit also departed although not before he delivered a set of prophecies including the promise that he would return to Tanna with an abundance of American goods and lead them to salvation and sweep away the Christian missionaries. Believers were thrown into prison by the British and French for blasphemy until they were granted religious freedom in 1957. The John Frum followers patiently wait for their American savior to return.
Upon discovering the existence of the John Frum Movement, Cevin Soling, a Harvard graduate student and filmmaker, traveled to Tanna with an abundance of American goods in the hopes of fulfilling the John Frum prophecy. “John Frum, He Will Come” chronicles his ascension to island god.