The Pacific Island Where Prince Philip is God

Apr 4, 2022 0 comments

At the other end of the sea from where Queen Elizabeth sits on her throne in England, photos of her husband holding a unique club rest safely under the supervision of two tribal villages. These are Yakel and Yaohnanen, settlements in the Vanuatu archipelago of the south Pacific where the Duke of Edinburgh has been worshiped as god for decades.

Photo: Roman Kalyakin/Flickr

At its peak, the reverence had thousands of followers under its wing, though now the numbers have dwindled to a few hundreds. Despite the linguistic, geographical and cultural differences between the two lands, the tribals of Tanna island have come to worship Prince Philip as a god-like entity. This is a man who is accepted as one of their own—the son of the mountain god, a warrior descended from the slopes of the land to make his way to England. Why? To fulfill the prophecy that a tribesman would leave the island in his real spiritual form to look for a wife in a powerful position overseas. As the spiritual leader made his way forward, the choppy waters pushed him against merciless coral reefs, chafing his dark skin to reveal the pale skin underneath. Once successful in his quest, he was expected to return to his land in Tanna.

The Duke, who ruled over the United Kingdom next to Queen Elizabeth until his death in 2021, seemed like the perfect embodiment of this Tanna kastom (or cultural customs). But various theories have been developed as to why the tribes cherry picked the British monarch in particular. Kirk Huffman, an anthropologist who has been working in Vanuatu for years, suggests pictures of Prince Philip next to the Queen across the land may have triggered this Prince Philip Movement. Another idea is that the attribution is a way of seizing back a semblance of authority on the tribals’ part by relating themselves to the head of the British regime.

Queen Elizabeth with her husband the duke of Edinburgh. Photo: Gabriella Comaschi/Flickr

The spotting of the movement began around the 1950’s, but was accelerated by the royal visit of the Queen and the duke in 1974. Back then, Vanuatu was called New Hebrides, and was under colonisation as part of the British Commonwealth. An unaware Philip had engaged in a kava drinking ceremony that year while the royal couple was sailing past the island of Tanna. Otherwise known for his cultural indifference, he was soon after found commanding that an official photograph of him be sent to the sect in Tanna for worship. It was unlikely, yet very real: the Duke of Edinburgh had officially acknowledged his ancient followers. It was also purported that several letters and photographs were exchanged between him and the villagers over time.

Photo: Breaking Asia/Flickr

A present to the duke from the tribes soon went down in history as a testimony of confirmation of the rumours. It was a pig-bashing club called a nal-nal. A meeting was convened, and the British resident commissioner took the stage to present photos of the British deity to a glue-eyed crowd staring mouth agape. It was right after the show that one of the village chiefs handed him the club, to be passed along to Prince Philip. And none of it was for pomp or show; it was pure, honest reverence, which demanded proof that their god had received the offering. Thousands of miles away, the club was presented to the duke in the UK, and a photograph of him holding it in his hands was clicked and sent back to Tanna. This image, along with all others, have been preserved in the villages till date. While the revered entity has passed on, the onus of being the leader has been unanimously passed on to his son, Prince Charles.

Photo: Roman Kalyakin/Flickr

These tribal men and women speak the Navhaal language, one spoken by only about 4,500 people across the world. Though well connected by air with the rest of the world, their community has detached itself from the shenanigans of the modern world, and finds succour in age old traditions that go back to some 3,000 years. You may not find electronic devices or modern clothing in the villages, but cultural activities abound here. Upon hearing of the Prince’s demise, the locals executed elaborate ceremonies to recognise the passing of the physical form of their spiritual god. Funerary speeches were held and dances were performed as a powerful way of expressing mourning. The most integral aspect of these traditions was the kava drinking, which is considered a sacred activity. This divine drink is used as a medium to transcend beyond the material world and communicate with other-worldly spirits. For in the Melanesian lands, which Vanuatu is a part of, the belief is that the physical body is of no consequence, and the spirit can in fact be reincarnated over the years to take on a new body. Will the Duke finally make his way back to his homeland in Tanna as believed?

# BBC News
# The Guardian


More on Amusing Planet


{{posts[0].date}} {{posts[0].commentsNum}} {{messages_comments}}


{{posts[1].date}} {{posts[1].commentsNum}} {{messages_comments}}


{{posts[2].date}} {{posts[2].commentsNum}} {{messages_comments}}


{{posts[3].date}} {{posts[3].commentsNum}} {{messages_comments}}