Prince Philip: the unlikely but willful deity of the Pacific | Prince philip

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Of the many honors and titles bestowed on the Duke of Edinburgh, the strangest was his status as a deity to a remote people in the Southwest Pacific.

The Prince Philip movement, a sect followed by the Yaohnanen tribe on the southern island of Tanna in Vanuatu, believed him to be the pale-skinned son of an ancient mountain spirit.

This small community, which built beliefs around Western cargo or merchandise brought to the New Hebrides especially by the US military during WWII, believed he was John Frum’s brother – seen as a corruption by John From, a supposed demonstration that encouraged a return to traditional methods before American and European influence.

The tribe offered to build a hut for Prince Philip.
The tribe offered to build a hut for Prince Philip. Photographie: Richard Shears / Rex Shutterstock

The origins of Philip’s divine status are unclear. But ancient stories tell of the son of the mountain spirit traveling to a distant land, marrying a powerful woman and, in time, returning.

The belief that Philip was the embodiment of this spirit was reinforced when he and the Queen visited Vanuatu in 1974, unaware of his status. Informed later, he accepted a request from the British Resident Commissioner in Vanuatu that an official photograph of himself be sent to the Tanna-based cult.

Villagers responded by sending him a traditional pig killing club and requesting that he be photographed holding it. That’s what he did in due form, posing at Buckingham Palace.

Two members of the tribe show the photo of Philip holding one of their clubs, which he sent to them in 1980.
Two members of the tribe show the photo of Philip holding one of their clubs, which he sent to them in 1980. Photographie: Richard Shears / Rex Shutterstock

Another official portrait followed in 2000, and in 2007 five members of the Tanna community, invited to Britain for a reality show, met him privately and off camera.

The three photographs were kept by Chef Jack Naiva, who died in 2009 and never saw his dream of the Duke’s “return” to Tanna realized.

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