Prince Philip .... The God?
To the people of the island of Tanna, the answer is yes. Tucked in the South Pacific, the isles of Vanuatu are home to a remote group of people. On Tanna some 700 of their 20,000 people of the Yaohnanen village believe the Duke of Edinburgh is a divine being. But...why? Good question and it's a wild story, one I believe an appropriate way to remember the Duke who left this world today at the impressive age of 99. Prince Philip's life was complicated, impressive, tragic and full of love. His 73 year marriage to Queen Elizabeth II makes him the longest acting consort to any monarch in English history and his wit and humanitarianism will be missed the world over. Often controversial, Prince Philip wasn't for everyone and he didn't much care about that. Pomp and circumstance never something he cared much for, his upcoming funeral at Windsor being a great example of that. This is why the fact that there is an island of people who worship him is....odd and honestly a little hilarious.
So today we honor the man I respected deeply by exploring a part of his life he probably found a little inappropriate and I'm sure a little hilarious.
A Movement or a Cult?
As with all religions or belief systems, it's hard to say if the Prince Philip Movement is more cult or religion but whatever you decide to label it as, the followers of the movement believe devoutly that Prince Philip is the son of their mountain God and part of a group of warriors that left the island to protect their culture. According to this legend, it was said the God would take the form of a "pale skinned man," travel to a distant land, marry a powerful white woman and eventually come back to the island. So....how did they decide Philip was their guy? So, I've heard two versions of why, I'm not sure which one is true so for the sake of equality we'll tell both. The first story says In the 1960s they saw a photo of him, claiming they, "felt the spirit" in him as it were. The second story says that in the late 1970s when the Queen and Philip were in a neighboring island on a Commonwealth tour, Philip handed a Tannese man a white pig, this was seen as a sign to the man that he was the God they'd been waiting for. This whole story became slightly more widespread when in the 1970s, British and French forces left the islands where they had jointly controlled, and learned of this small group of people in the mountains who believed Prince Philip was a God. Word got back to Philip who sent an autographed photo back to the village. This was the confirmation the people needed; Prince Philip was their tabu-man, Elizabeth was the powerful woman and one day he would return to the island.
His photos are worshipped by the people who believe he is ruling England with the help of his wife, Queen Elizabeth. Much of the worship consists of chanting in smoke filled huts while drinking a mind altering drink where they receive messages confirming that Philip would one day return to, "Paradise." They believe praying to him is the reason their crops do well, which is important since 99% of their diet consists of yams. They also believe that Barack Obama became President due to the powers of Philip. They even believed that Philip's "power" had something to do with the capturing of Osama Bin Laden. To show their appreciation for all he'd done for their village and the world really, they sent him a traditional nal-nal, a pig-killing club and in proper polite fashion, Philip took a picture with the club and sent it back to the village. It is now one of their most prized possessions.
Even more strange than the villagers worshipping him, is the handful of Westerners who've come to the island because they too believed Philip to be a God. I think it's ironic that a man who loathed the spotlight would be seen as divine being by so many people and yet here we are. When the villagers have been asked about Philip's return, they acknowledge the Queen may come too but that Philip will be busy with his duties. What I find sort of beautiful in their belief, especially now that Philip has passed, is that they are not tied to his return being a physical one and acknowledge it could be a spiritual return. For the Tannese, death doesn't exist in the way we commonly describe it. They see each person as a link in an endless chain that is constantly growing, Philip has always been a part of that chain and he'll stay in that chain even in spiritual form.
There have been no updates as of yet to how the Tannese are taking the news of Philip's death. When he retired from royal duties in 2017, they believed it caused a cyclone that threatened their island so....upshot is, they didn't take it well. Hopefully, for their sake, his death is not seen as another abdication of duties but rather a transition into the endless spiritual chain they put so much stake in. And if you're wondering if Prince Charles may have a shot at being worshipped by the tribe...think again. Despite being the child of their God, Charles hasn't found his way into their legends or their prayers and it looks to stay that way.
Whether Prince Philip was a God to you or just the husband of the Queen of England, his contributions to the world are endless and his mark will be felt for generations to come. From championing green initiatives, preserving wildlife and most importantly, being the rock to England's longest reigning monarch....Prince Philip has solidified his place in history.
Rest in Power.