Prince Philip movement
The Prince Philip movement is a religious sect followed by the Kastom people around the villages of Yaohnanen and Yakel on the southern island of Tanna in Vanuatu. It is a cargo cult of the Yaohnanen tribe, who believe in the divinity of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh (1921–2021), the former consort to Queen Elizabeth II.
According to ancient Yaohnanen tales, the son of a mountain spirit travelled over the seas to a distant land. There, he married a powerful woman and in time would return to them. He was sometimes said to be a brother to John Frum.
The people of the Yaohnanen and Takel area believe in the divinity of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, the consort to Queen Elizabeth II. They had seen the respect accorded to Queen Elizabeth II by the colonial officials and concluded that her husband, Prince Philip, must be the son referred to in their legends.
It is unclear just when this belief came about, but it was probably some time in the 1950s or 1960s. It was strengthened by the royal couple's official visit to Vanuatu in 1974, when a few villagers had the opportunity to actually see Prince Philip from a distance. The Prince was not then aware of the sect, but it was brought to his attention several years later by John Champion, the British Resident Commissioner in the New Hebrides.
Interactions with Prince Philip
Champion suggested that Prince Philip send them a portrait of himself. He agreed and sent a signed official photograph. The villagers responded by sending him a traditional pig-killing club called a nal-nal. In compliance with their request, the Prince sent a photograph of himself posing with the club. Another photograph was sent in 2000. All three photographs were kept by Chief Jack Naiva, who died in 2009.
Anne, Princess Royal, visited Tanna Island in October 2014. She is the only daughter of Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip. She had visited Vanuatu in 1974, but had not previously travelled to the island. Charles, Prince of Wales, visited the island in 2018.
On 27 September 2007, Channel 4 broadcast Meet the Natives, a reality show about five Tanna men from the Prince Philip Movement on a visit to Britain. Their trip culminated in an off-screen audience with Philip, where gifts were exchanged, including a new photograph of the Prince.
The sect celebrated the 2018 wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle by holding a party, where they hoisted the Union Jack, danced, and ate pigs. The villagers were initially unaware of the wedding, until a travel agent for the island, who was contacted by The Times, relayed the message.
Reaction to Prince Philip's death
In April 2021, the sect mourned Prince Philip's death. Village Chief Albi said that he was "terribly, terribly sorry" that he died and tribal leader Chief Yapa sent his condolences to the Royal Family and the people of the UK. The Union Flag was flown at half mast on the grounds of the nakamal. A formal mourning period was declared and many tribespeople gathered on 12 April in a ceremony to remember the Duke, where men took turns to speak and pay tribute to him. For the next few weeks, villagers met periodically to conduct rites for him, who they see as a "recycled descendant of a very powerful spirit or god that lives on one of their mountains". They conducted ritualistic dance, held a procession, and displayed memorabilia of the Duke, while the men drank kava, a ceremonial drink made from the roots of the kava plant. The period of mourning culminated with a "significant gathering" where a great deal of yams and kava plants were on display. Numerous pigs were also killed for the ceremony. Referring to the Queen, Chief Jack Malia said though the Duke is dead, they still have a connection with the 'mother' of the royal family. Many of the tribesmen believe that while his body lies at rest, the Duke's soul will return to "its spiritual home, the island of Tanna".
Kirk Huffman, an anthropologist familiar with the group, said that after their period of mourning the group would probably transfer their veneration to Prince Charles, who had visited Vanuatu in 2018 and met with some of the tribal leaders.
In 2013, Man Belong Mrs Queen, a book by British writer Matthew Baylis, investigated the historical and anthropological origins of the movement and provided an account of the author's own stay on the island of Tanna.
In 2018, the Australian podcast Zealot documented the Prince Philip Movement in episode 13.
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