Thousands of miles away from Buckingham Palace, on a remote small island in the South Pacific, Prince Philip, spouse and consort of reigning monarch Queen Elizabeth II, has a cult attached to his name and it goes beyond his figure as a royal.
He is venerated by the people who live in and around the village of Yaohnanen on Vanuatu’s island of Tanna. They worship the Duke of Edinburgh as their ‘tabu man.’ The designation attributes the 97-year-old royal such qualities that he is considered sacred.
The extraordinary relationship that the local islanders garner for the longest-serving consort in British history is founded on an ancient story and prophecy.
British author Matthew Baylis, who has spent some time living among these people, says the locals even believe that it is Prince Philip who reigns over the United Kingdom. That the Queen is merely there to help, not the other way round.
The Tanna people still live according to their traditional way of life. They have a self-sufficient gift economy which does not use cash, and their food is all locally grown. Some of the younger travel a great distance to see a proper school, but not everyone does so.
The islanders believe that the Duke of Edinburgh is the embodiment of an ancient mountain spirit. This spirit, the prophecy says, has traveled miles away to foreign realms of the world, has taken the form of a white man and has espoused himself to a pretty powerful lady.
The prophecy also has it that eventually this man, who has been identified as Prince Philip, will one day come back on the island. Whether in bodily or more spiritual form, on the day he returns, he will stay among the locals. So, each year, if not each day, the Tanna people compassionately await their Prince Philip to join them.
The origins of this cult can be traced to the 1950s. However, it really took hold after the British Royal family reached the shores of Vanuatu, at the time called New Hebrides, as part of a tour around the Commonwealth in 1974.
A famous Tanna warrior, the late Chief Jack Naiva, caught a sight of Prince Philip on the royal yacht Britannia as it anchored at the country’s capital of Port Vila. In that same instance, it was clear for Chief Jack that this was indeed the embodiment of his peoples’ ancient spirit.
A white pig that the Tanna people received as a symbolic gift from Prince Philip during the 1974 visit ultimately cemented his cult status among the villagers.
Subsequently, the villagers maintained a correspondence with Buckingham Palace, in which they received a signed portrait of the Duke of Edinburgh. In return, they sent a local gift to appreciate the gesture. In 2007, Prince Philip even welcomed a group of five men from Tanna at Windsor Castle. The meeting was held behind closed door.
All of these stories are embedded in the local stories about Prince Philip. Ceremonies are held to honor his highly important figure. Significant world events are also attributed to his divine and mystical powers, or are at least in some way linked to the prince consort.
It was supposedly due to his great powers that President Obama was elected as the first African-American president of the U.S., reports Matthew Baylis. After that, the Duke of Edinburgh also aided President Obama in his mission to eliminate Osama bin Laden.
When a strong cyclone hit the Pacific nation in 2015, it was perceived as a sign that Prince Philip would soon be visiting the island. Another storm that coincided with the announcement of Prince Philip’s retirement from royal duties, in 2017, was hailed as being triggered by this royal news.
Baylis suggests that the villagers “may well see his withdrawal from public duties as … having attained some higher rung of taboo, sacred status.”
A local prophet known as Fred Nasse fueled the talk of Prince Philip returning on the island. In 2015, he persuaded his fellow-believers that something very significant would happen on the island soon. Something so great that everyone around the world will tune in to them and follow through the change.
For now, no announcements have been issued by Buckingham Palace regarding Prince Philip changing his address.
For those thinking that the Tanna people are silly for their religion, they have a perfect response. Chief Jack made a deep impression on writer Matthew Baylis. He had told him: “They’ve been waiting 2,000 years for a sign from Jesus. But our Philip sends us photographs! And one day he will come,” according to the Express.
How the Tannese culture lives on after Prince Philip’s life eventually ceases one day, it remains to be seen.Perhaps his spirit will one day return to the village of Yaohnanen.