History has no shortage of cult leaders and dictators who have claimed to be gods, either as part of a delusion or as a power grab. Other people, however, have found out that through no fault of your own, you can be revered as some religion's immortal deity. All you need is to be in the right place at the right time. Like ...
When the sails and masts of the famed British explorer Capt. James Cook's ships were first spotted off Hawaii in 1778, one islander described them as "trees moving about on the sea." When Cook eventually checked out the islands himself on Jan. 16, 1779, he was greeted by thousands of Hawaiians in canoes, presenting lavish prizes.
They weren't just being generous hosts; it turns out that those sails and masts on Cook's ships looked virtually identical to contemporaneous imagery of the Hawaiian god Lono.
This is Lono. Guess what he is god of?
Lono is a sex god, and his job is to cruise around on a rainbow and sprinkle the world with ... you don't want to know. By arriving not only on a vessel that looked just like Lono, but also on the same day as his annual festival "Lonomania," Cook presumably responded with the loudest "Hey everybody, we're all gonna get laid!" this side of Caddyshack.
Thus the captain, tempted by the perks of being a penis-king, decided to go along with the charade by allowing himself to be smeared with pig fat, and then showing off some fireworks he happened to have in his boat.
Capt. Cook ... the world's first Texan?
Unfortunately for Cook, the Hawaiians were pretty pissed when he paid them a second visit, and not just because of the mounting list of paternity suits awaiting him. Cook's fleet had suffered a heavy battering during a wild storm, and the Hawaiian natives were deeply offended that Cook's ships had returned in such poor condition. Instead of pig fat and flower necklaces, the natives were waiting for him with clubs and daggers.
The instant Capt. Cook realized that his fertility feast-days were over.
Cook tried to explain that it was due to the shitty weather he had recently experienced on his rainbow, but the islanders wouldn't have it. Cook was "clubbed, repeatedly knifed, half-drowned and battered about the head with a rock," at which point we imagine the islanders realized that the man was not a god after all. The fraud was subsequently scarified, torn to pieces, eaten and whatever they didn't finish was made into trophies. The lesson? It is entirely possible to pretend to be a god, but just politely leave after your festival is over. It's not the sort of thing you can keep up forever.
Visit beautiful Hawaii!
If this isn't the strangest story to come out of World War II, we'd like to hear the one that beats it.
World War II had the unintended consequence of bringing the world together more quickly and efficiently than the Internet ever could. As nations vied for control of the globe, thousands of young servicemen found themselves trudging through remote parts of the world that, until now, hadn't seen so much as a Coke can, let alone a bazooka.
"Holy shit -- dragons!"
For the isolated tribes of Micronesia, this was something akin to if we found out tomorrow that our solar system is a booming interstellar trade hub for some galactic empire we just hadn't spotted until now. The best explanation at the time was that these pale-skinned interlopers were supernatural beings.
The result was what were known as cargo cults -- new religions that sprang up among the natives to worship these strange beings and the mystical artifacts they left behind (shell casings, spark plugs, cigarette butts, etc.).
The thing is, the cults weren't some temporary craze that died out after the war ended -- for decades, tribes would build crude imitations of things such as landing strips and airplanes, hoping to persuade their "gods" to return and resume dumping their strange gifts all over the villages.
Perhaps the most notable cargo cult is the so-called John Frum movement, named after an unknown U.S. serviceman who may have introduced himself as "John from America." Not only did his encounter with the inhabitants of Tanna Island in Vanuatu eventually result in a religion that recently celebrated its 50th anniversary, but "John Frum" still enjoys his own holiday, complete with parades, makeshift Army uniforms and a U.S. flag probably made of bark.
On the lighter side, followers of a separate cult on Vanuatu more recently adopted Queen Elizabeth II's husband, Prince Philip, as their lord and master once word reached them that he matched their long-lost deity's description as "white guy married to a rich lady."
Still beats Scientology.
In 1930, Haile Selassie I, also known as Ras Tafari Makonnen, came to the throne as King of Ethiopia. He was pretty popular at home, but little could he have known that he was about to become much, much more popular on a far-away island called Jamaica, where a revered orator named Marcus Garvey had just off-handedly prophesied that a black king in Africa would literally be Jesus. (Yes, the famous one.)
This whole messianic mix-up occurred when Time magazine ran a cover story on "His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie I, King of Kings, Lord of Lords, Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah and Elect of God." A bunch of Garvey's followers put two and two together and got ... well, we're not sure exactly.
A black king in Africa isn't the biggest stretch as far as prophecies go, so it's really just a matter of good timing that awarded Selassie the title of God-incarnate, and determined that Marcus Garvey was the reincarnation of John the Baptist in the eyes of thousands of people who started calling themselves Rastafarians. The fact that Selassie was really an Ethiopian Orthodox Christian and a mortal didn't seem to make a dent on the Rastafarian community.
Furthermore, pictures like these with Aslan were not helping.
But since Selassie did not want to disrespect his adoring crowd -- yeah, that's the reason -- he decided to just go along with the whole thing. He even visited Jamaica in 1966, finding himself swamped at the airport by fanatic Rastafarians, smooth reggae beats and what has been described as "a haze of ganja smoke." The day was made into a holiday.
Of course, things hit a sour note on Aug. 27, 1975, when Selassie's death shocked the world ... except for the Rastafarians. They had a backup theory to explain this inevitability, maintaining to this very day that his death was a hoax and that he will stop playing around and return one day to unite the world.