Prince Philip mourned by tribe who may now worship Prince Charles

Prince Philip appears to have been singled out for deification by an isolated Pacific island tribe because of a local myth

After the news of the UK's Prince Philip's death on Friday, the village of Younanen on Tanna Island has gone into mourning.

Tanna is part of an island chain which makes up the nation of Vanuatu in the Pacific, 1,750 kilometres north-east of Australia.

But why Vanuatu?

A casual observer could be forgiven for thinking the islanders had been visited by the prince on his many travels during his time in the Royal Navy.

But the truth is somewhat stranger.

The duke is revered as a god by some residents in the South Pacific island.

The local cult, known as the Prince Philip Movement, is a religious sect followed by the Kastom people, centred on one village.

“I imagine there will be some ritual wailing, some special dances," anthropologist Kirk Huffman told The Telegraph.

"There will be a focus on the men drinking kava – it is the key to opening the door to the intangible world," he said.

As to why residents of Tanna island revere Prince Philip as a deity-like figure, nobody is entirely sure.

One theory focuses on a local myth, which told how a spirit left a nearby mountain, flew to a distant land and married a queen.

The pale-skinned son of a mountain god had ventured across the seas to look for a rich and powerful bride.

Anthropologists believe Prince Philip became linked to the legend in the 1960s when Vanuatu was an Anglo-French colony known as the New Hebrides.

Villagers at the time were likely to have seen portraits of Prince Philip and the queen at government offices and police stations.

The cult grew with Prince Philip's visit to Vanuatu in 1974, when he appeared in his white naval uniform.

Prince Philip sent the villagers three official portraits over the years, including one of him posing with a nal-nal war club they had sent him.

Villagers prayed to the prince daily, asking for his blessing on the banana and yam crops that make their primitive and extremely poor community self-sufficient.

“If he comes one day the people will not be poor, there will be no sickness, no debt and the garden will be growing very well,” said village chief Jack Malia in 2017.

But now Mr Huffman believes the islanders may turn to Prince Charles as the successor to Prince Philip – at least according to the cult.

Prince Charles has already visited the island in 2018, where he was appointed an honorary chief, and took part in a local ritual to confirm his new status.

Mr Huffman believes that based on the villagers' warm reception of Prince Charles – a shrine was built in his honour – the tradition of worshipping a British royal may continue.

Additional reporting by agencies

Reaction to Prince Philip's death – in pictures

Updated: April 11, 2021 12:13 PM

SHARE

Editor's Picks
NEWSLETTERS
Sign up to:

* Please select one

Most Read