Apr 11, 2021

Islanders Who Worship Prince Philip as God Will Now Idolize Prince Charles Instead

Islanders Who Worship Prince Philip as God Will Now Idolize Prince Charles Instead
Darragh Roche
April 9, 2021

As the United Kingdom and the world mourns the death of Prince Philip, there is one community in the South Pacific that's expected to be deeply affected by the Duke of Edinburgh's passing.

A tribe in the village of Yaohnanen on the island of Tanna in the nation of Vanuatu believe Prince Philip to be a god. It is estimated that 700 people ascribe to the so-called Prince Philip Movement out of the island's total population of 29,000.

The village is in a tropical rainforest with limited communications with the outside world but because of their idolization of the prince, the locals have frequently featured in media reports.

The New York Post asked anthropologist Kirk Huffman about how Prince Philip's death might affect the tribe in February this year. The 99-year-old was in hospital at the time.

"From the believers' point of view, he is not English but from their island," Huffman explained.

"The original spirit of which he is in the process of recycling is one of their own people."

"They were hoping he would return in person, but the likelihood of that is now very unlikely," said Huffman, who is honorary curator at Vanuatu Cultural Center. "But they will imagine his spirit might come back to the island."

The NY Post asked Huffman how the tribe would cope when the prince passed away. He noted that the Prince Philip's son, Prince Charles, had visited Vanuatu in April 2018 where a member of the religion, Jimmy Joseph, presented him with a carved wooden stick intended for his father.

"They will be in grief-stricken mourning," Huffman said. "There will be ritual wailing and also a series of dances that encapsulate parts of the island's history."

Jean-Pascal Wahé of the Vanuatu Cultural Center told the newspaper that the islanders believe Prince Philip's spirit "will come to Tanna" and that they will worship Prince Charles. The 72-year-old is prince of Wales and heir to the British throne.

Former Buckingham Palace spokesman Dickie Arbiter explained how the duke came to be worshiped during a visit to Vanuatu with his wife Queen Elizabeth II in 1974.

"One of the oarsmen taking them ashore was a chap from Tanna called Chief Jack," Arbiter said. "He thought Philip was a warrior from a long time ago who had come down from the mountains and gone off to England in search of a bride."

"The bride is Mrs. Queen, so Philip is the god," he said.

"He is a god, not a man," village chief Jack Naiva told the Christian Science Monitor in a 2007 interview. "Sometimes we hear his voice, but we can't see him."

The Prince Philip Movement is often compared to the "cargo cults" that arose on certain Pacific islands during World War II where natives came to believe that performing rituals would lead to goods deliveries from more technologically advanced societies.

In 2018, the village of Yaohnanen celebrated the marriage of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle with dancing and by eating "many, many pigs," according to The Independent.

It may take some time before the members of the Prince Philip Movement are informed about his death.


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