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Worlds Apart

Change and constance on sceptered isles

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Gordon Chaplin grew up in the Bahamas on an island across a narrow channel from Nassau. He knew it as Hog Island, named for the pig farms that once had been its only industry. Today, millions of tourists know Chaplin’s boyhood home as Paradise Island, now the site of several casinos and resorts.

When Chaplin was a boy, he and his father, the renowned co-author of Fishes of the Bahamas and Adjacent Tropical Waters, an ichthyological reference book, often explored the coral reefs that surround the island. Chaplin went off to college and became a reporter for the Washington Post; his parents, now both deceased, sold the house in the 1970s. Recently, Chaplin returned for the first time in 30 years, with marine biologists from the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia who had come to survey the current state of the Bahamas’ coral reefs. What they found there shocked and saddened Chaplin: most of the reefs were dead or dying, and much of the island had been paved over. Exploring it soon after he arrived, Chaplin found himself in a tunnel for vehicles that leads to a mega-resort. “It ran right under one of the inlets we dove in when I was younger, but I felt like I was in New York City rather than the Bahamas,” he says. His stirring report, “A Return to the Reefs,” begins on page 40.

Paul Raffaele first heard about cargo cults—religious movements that sometimes revere Western soldiers who were stationed in the South Pacific during World War II—when he was based in Papua New Guinea in 1961 as a kiap, an Australian colonial official, junior grade, charged with patrolling tribal villages. Hiking through the highlands one day, he came upon a wooden airplane that cult members had built on a hilltop as a tribute to the Allied servicemen who had brought them modern goods, or “cargo.”

Most cargo cults, Raffaele says, vanished “when the supply of chocolate bars dried up.” But when he learned that one, the John Frum movement, had survived into the 21st century on the island of Tanna in the South Pacific, he packed his bags and booked a flight to investigate. His report, “In John They Trust,” begins on page 70.

About Carey Winfrey
Carey Winfrey

Carey Winfrey was Smithsonian magazine's editor in chief for ten years, from 2001 to 2011.

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