Cargo cult (noun): Any religious movement based on the observation by local residents of the delivery of supplies by ship and aircraft to colonial officials. Cargo cults were observed chiefly in Melanesia in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. They were characterized by the expectation of a new age of blessing and prosperity to be initiated by the arrival of a special “cargo” of goods from supernatural sources. (source)
Somewhere off the African coast, there were two islands unexplored by man: one populated by apes, and one populated by crocodiles.
Since the 1600s, ocean currents have carried discarded goods and wayward ships to these islands. The assortments of items that arrived at each shore would go on to influence and define the two animal cultures in profound ways.
The Kongs of Donkey Kong Island
Among the apes, only two had previously made contact with humans: a gorilla patriarch and his young son.
They had come to the island as captives in a shipwreck, bearing just one intact souvenir from the human world: a necktie labeled “DK,” most likely signifying a human clothing brand. After washing ashore, the elder began to regale the local apes with tales of his rampage in New York City, his escape from a cruel human master, his follow-up rampage in a greenhouse, and his capture in a zoo. Over the years, the other apes grew bored and skeptical of these rambling stories, and the younger gorilla — too young at the time to retain his own memories of human society — learned to refrain from mentioning his youth overseas.
A gradual change occurred over the years, as more and more human artifacts found their way to this place. The apes started to regard these items as gifts from a higher power. This belief system ultimately replaced their former banana-centric mythology, which was based around all-powerful Banana Bird deities.
The apes used the humans’ written documents to teach themselves rudimentary English. One such document was a review of the 1930s movie, “King Kong.” Noticing egregious similarities between the film’s synopsis and the elder ape’s personal accounts, the apes bestowed the surname of Kong upon themselves.
Despite no actual familial relation between most of the apes (who actually hailed from several different species), the community loosely adopted the structure of a human family. At first they attempted to name the now-elderly ape as their patriarch, but he refused their offer, embittered by their years of skepticism. The apes shrugged, named him “Cranky Kong,” and took away his “DK” necktie to give to Cranky’s headstrong son, who had grown into a powerful alpha male. To give proper meaning to the DK initials, the Kongs naturally named their new leader Donkey Kong.
The new civilization of the Kongs developed with amazing speed. Soon, they all had names. They started to build dangerous mines, and began storing their possessions in barrels. The Kongs adopted the human custom of wearing clothes after a passing plane dropped a shipment. Of course, their understanding of the concept was sketchy at best; the monkey named Diddy started wearing a shirt and hat with no pants, while the infant ape, Kiddy, donned pajamas all day long.
Individually, the Kongs established distinct identities by adopting their own separate batches of human culture. Swanky Kong became a suit-wearing game show host. Candy Kong pursued a parodic concept of human feminine gender norms. Funky Kong discovered marijuana, surfing, and airplanes all at once. Occasionally, the Kongs would make drastic changes to their chosen themes: Funky Kong, in particular, would eventually exchange his surfer persona for a more militaristic personality, after taking the guns and amphetamines that a spooked drug runner had dropped at sea.
The Kongs tried to emulate the sacred human culture as closely as possible. They became lovers of music when they discover guitars, drums, and 1990s-era boom boxes.
They adopted the practice of animal domestication. Much like humans, they believed it would be funny to put clothes on their new pets.
As the years went on, and Donkey Kong himself grew in confidence and strength, the apes increasingly perceived him as one who had been “touched by the Gods” (Cranky was all but forgotten, as the apes had sadly adopted the ugly human practice of disregarding their elderly). The Kongs’ hero worship took an obsessive turn as they carved their island into the shape of Donkey’s face and marked all their washed-up barrels with his initials.
At some point, Donkey caught wind of the human concept of “hoarding.” Treasuring bananas above all else, he began to gather his Banana Hoard, despite the fruit’s obvious tendency to spoil within a few days. This hoard became the pride of the Kong family.
The Kremlings of Crocodile Isle
On the second island, the crocodile civilization took a very different course.
From the beginning, Crocodile Isle (as it would be named once the crocodiles discovered rhyming) was Hell on Earth, sitting atop a powderkeg of volcanic activity and playing host to massive hives of dog-sized, spike-covered bees.
The human-made items that washed up on Crocodile Isle carried a distinctly warlike flavor. Throughout the 1600s, pirate ships full of swords and guns would plow heedlessly into the lava and inescapable marshes surrounding the base of the island. Like the Kongs, the crocodiles saw these humans as Gods, but in a different way. The crocodiles would eat the human pirates to gain their godly strength, then take hold of their weapons. Much of the crocodilian culture was fashioned after these seafaring victims.
The crocodiles taught themselves to adopt humanoid bipedalism, until it came naturally to the entire population.
From the articles of clothing that washed up on the island, the crocodiles mostly chose military garb for themselves. At some point, they begin to call themselves Kremlings. I do not know why. I am not a crocodile.
Like the Kongs, the Kremlings made certain errors in translation. They became convinced that kings should command pirate ships and pirate captains should live in castles. When they happened upon a blueprint for an amusement park, their violence-accustomed minds naturally assumed that proper roller coasters were to be designed as death traps. They built their own death-themed amusement park, Krazy Kremland, accordingly.
Rather than base their society on a human family structure, the Kremlings opted for a fascist model, with one Kremling in complete control of all others. As the Kremlings entered the 1990s, the top spot was easily filled by the greediest, most unhinged crocodile of them all: K. Rool, whose left eye had been punctured by a rival’s fang in a brutal power struggle.
King K. Rool ordered that the top of his island be made into a fortress bearing his likeness. He had the mysterious depths of the island plundered for riches and energy. Most impressively, he organized the Kremlings into as fearsome an army as a deranged crocodile’s mind could conjure.
Rool became bored of his power, and felt something no crocodile had ever felt before: emptiness. Reading his human documents as the Kongs had done, Rool tried to learn the ultimate purpose of leadership. His conclusion: there was no higher purpose than endless, insatiable conquest. So he turned his bloodshot eye toward the nearby Donkey Kong Island, to find whatever they had that could be taken.
The Neverending Banana War
They took the bananas in a dark, stormy night, unleashing a succession of escalating Hells that neither society could have imagined. Of course, crocodiles have no need for bananas. The Hoard could have been anything; K. Rool knew only that a conquerer must take whatever is near and dear to his chosen enemy.
The previously nonviolent Donkey and Diddy Kong responded to the Kremlings’ transgression with an epic several-day rampage, barreling through armies of Kremlings, Kremling allies, and even some unaffiliated animals in a desperate struggle to prove a maxim they had learned from the humans: “What’s mine is mine.” From the crocodiles’ example, the apes had learned war. Most of the Kongs stayed out of the fighting, but offered material support where they could. Only the Kongs’ pacifist redneck cousin Manky Kong tried to talk sense into the enraged Donkey and Diddy.
Donkey and Diddy reached K. Rool’s pirate ship and stomped on the crocodile king’s cranium until he suffered severe brain damage. They brought the Banana Hoard home, where the bananas would go bad in a few hours from having been left in the sun too long.
If this was a victory, it was a strange one. Thousands of lives were lost, and the once-peaceful souls of the Kongs compromised, all for a shallow imitation of humanity’s oldest game: conquer, reclaim, repeat. “What’s yours is mine.” “What’s mine is mine.” War is waged time and time again, even for the most fleeting of prizes imaginable.
Pandora’s Barrel had been burst. There was no sealing it up again.
A few years passed. Condemned to a mental state of permanent rage and agony by the Kongs’ beating, K. Rool could only endure the shame of defeat by switching his identity from King K. Rool to Kaptain K. Rool. United by a post-catastrophe blend of vengefulness and patriotism, the Kremlings reverted to their 1600s pirate customs. His forces mustered, K. Rool kidnapped and tortured his hated enemy Donkey Kong, offering—in a Kremlingesque mockery of the very idea of negotiation—to free Donkey in exchange for the long-since-expired Banana Hoard.
The war resumed and escalated. Diddy recruited his girlfriend Dixie, and the two began their Kongquest of Crocodile Isle with crazed grins of adrenaline and bloodlust.
Certain Kongs had moved to the island in an effort to make peace and bridge the two cultures. Cranky’s wife Wrinkly Kong, in particular, had founded a college to try to break through the crocodile nation’s jingoistic fervor, but to no avail.
Diddy and Dixie, unburdened by the constraining desire to protect their own homeland, waged a path of destruction that dwarfed the war path of years prior. After rescuing their patriarch, the Kongs delved deep into the island and executed Kaptain K. Rool by throwing him into the ocean of mysterious energy that swam beneath the island, powering the Kremlings’ war machine. This had the unintended, but welcome side-effect of starting a chain reaction which sank Crocodile Isle into the ocean, killing all its inhabitants as the Kongs escaped to safety to celebrate their war crime from afar.
K. Rool survived his execution by boarding an escaping Kremling ship. He vowed to make one more attempt at revenge. He reset his identity once again to the mad scientist Baron K. Roolenstein, having watched the 1931 film adaptation of Frankenstein after a reel had washed up on Crocodile Isle.
Recruiting all surviving Kremlings, he kidnapped both Donkey and Diddy, placed them inside a killer robot named KAOS (the ongoing wars had accelerated Kremling tech advancements), and sailed to North America, moving his operation to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and declaring the area “The Northern Kremisphere.”
The Kongs gave chase. Dixie and the youngest Kong, the infant Kiddy, led the charge, laying waste to the Kremlings’ last stronghold in this unfamiliar land.
They forged a temporary alliance with a native cargo cult of peaceful bears, who had developed a folksy culture from combined Michigander and Canadian influences.
Soon, even the young Kiddy had the blood of thousands on his hands. The Kongs rescued Donkey and Diddy, and unwittingly discovered their ancient, forgotten deities: the Banana Birds.
Forgiving the Kongs for their conversion (the Banana Birds know all and forgive all, and are an excellent source of potassium), the Banana Birds helped the Kongs track down K. Rool. Seeing that the crocodile monarch had nothing left—no home, no armies, no culture, no family, nothing—the Kongs opted to merely humiliate him by asking the Banana Bird Queen to drop an egg shell on him.
The Kongs returned home. The remaining Kremlings would make further attempts at revenge over the years, but they were now a homeless, scattered people. Their obsession with warfare and conquest had led them to utter ruin, but not before their influence and antagonism could stain the souls of the once-peaceful Kongs. As the battles went on, the Kongs began to adopt a few more Kremling practices, the most notable being their use of guns.
The story of these two cargo cults, these worshippers of man, begs a question of our human species. Given the choice, will we choose to be Kongs: lovers of music, family, freedom, and individual expression? Or will we choose to be Kremlings: worshippers of power, aggression, and bloodshed? Or are we humans always destined to be both at once? And suppose some of us choose to be Kongs, while others choose to be Kremlings: will we, in the face of crocodilian attack, find any option but to condemn ourselves to spiritual decay and cyclical violence in defense of even our most fleeting material possessions?