The Null Device
The h2g2 entry on cargo cults is fascinating, detailing this phenomenon's history, from its roots in the "big man" gift economies of Polynesia through to encounters with Christianity, WW2, the US military and disapproving Australian authorities in Papua New Guinea. (via MeFi)
In the native view, the Christians worshipped the god Anus. He created Adam and Eve and gave them cargo of canned meat, steel tools, rice in bags and matches. He took it all away when they discovered sex and he sent a flood to destroy them, but he gave Noah a big wooden steamboat and made him the captain so he would survive. When Ham disobeyed his father his cargo was taken away and he was sent to New Guinea. Now his descendants were being given a chance to reform and regain their cargo. All through the twenties the natives patiently worked hard, sang hymns and prayed to Anus. But by the thirties it became clear that the missionaries were lying; they had been good Christians and worked hard, but it was the foreign bosses who did no work that got all the cargo.
While in Brisbane, Yali made another startling discovery: the Australians kept hundreds of animals in the Brisbane Zoo, which they carefully fed and tended. He also noticed the large number of dogs and cats kept as pets in homes. It wasn't until a conference in Port Moresby5 that he was able to solve this puzzling behaviour. The solution came when he witnessed a book which showed a succession from monkeys into humans. It became clear the depth to which the missionaries had lied: they had claimed Adam and Eve were men's ancestors when they clearly believed that their ancestors were animals who needed to be treated with respect. It was obvious the missionaries had made up such lies in order to hide this truth from the New Guineans, who had held such beliefs before their arrival. Upon returning home, Yali was convinced by the prophet Gurek that the Queensland Museum was actually Rome, that the gods had been taken captive there, and that in order to lure them back the natives had to stop their foolish acceptance of the lies of Christianity.
When radically different cultures and belief systems intersect, the interference patterns can be quite strange.