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What People Believe: The Prince Philip Movement

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We’ve all gone a bit Royal Family mad recently. When we’re not watching who our Queen is waving at or checking Prince Philip is behaving himself, we’re studying what Kate’s wearing or gazing at Harry’s cheeky grin. We just can’t get enough. But it looks like us Brits are only in second place when it comes to a love of the Duke of Edinburgh. 

As part of TNS' 'What People Believe' series, we look at the beliefs of The Prince Philip Movement.

Who?

The Yaohnanan Tribe from the island of Tanna in Vanuatu (off the east coast of Australia) don't just love Prince Philip but worship him as a divine being. The religious sect is believed to have formed in the 1950s-60s as an offshoot of the John Frum movement in Vanuatu.

In the very distant past a cloaked stranger promised that one day the volcano on the eastern coast of the island would erupt with gifts. During the Second World War these promises were remembered when cargo was dropped from planes for the American soldiers stationed there. ‘John Frum’ or ‘John From (America)’ became the name of the cloaked stranger from the past. The cult remains today and they await John Frum’s return with more gifts.

What do the Prince Philip Movement believe?

OK, so what does John Frum have to do with Prince Philip? According to ancient Yaohnanan legend, the pale skinned son of a mountain spirit and the brother of John Frum travelled across the seas to a distant land in order to marry a powerful lady. In time he would return, bringing the prosperity ‘pale skinned’ people enjoy with him.

The Duke of Edinburgh seemed to fit the description, and their faith was strengthened when the tribe Chief Jack Naiva and a few other villagers were able to see him from afar as the Queen and Prince Philip visited the New Hebrides in 1974.

Chief Jack was paddling one of the war canoes assigned to greet the Royal couple and told one interviewer later;

'I saw him standing on the deck in his white uniform and I knew then that he was the true Messiah... It is a memory I will always have of him…to see him in the flesh like that, even though I know that deep inside he is more than flesh and bones.'

prince p tribe

So it was settled; Prince Philip was the one. Although at the time the Duke of Edinburgh was unaware of his divine status, he was later advised by the Resident British Commissioner.

An official signed photograph was sent to the tribe and in response a traditional club or nal-nal was delivered to Buckingham Palace.

Two more photos have since been sent to Tanna, one of the Duke holding the club and another updated photo in 2000. These were protected and revered by Chief Jack until his death in 2009.

Although Chief Jack never got the chance, the villagers live in the hope that one day they will meet their deity.

What do they do?

The tribe prepare a birthday feast for Prince Philip every year and await his arrival. As well as a banquet, there will be the ceremonial drinking of kava, an intoxicating brew made from the roots of a pepper tree which makes your mouth go numb.

They use a photograph of Philip to worship him, just like an altar in a church and in 2007 they procured a Union flag which they proudly display on a bamboo pole.

Quick Facts: 

-The Yaohnanan Tribesmen wear only a koteka or penis sheath while tribeswomen wear a simple grass skirt. 

-The volcano on the island, Mount Yasur (from which gifts will pour one day, according to legend) is one of the most active in the world.

- The Yaohnanan Tribe have been the subject of documentaries in Australia, Spain, Portugal and Italy. In the UK, the tribe were the subject of a 2007 Channel 4 broadcast 'Meet the Natives', in which five Tanna natives were brought to Britain as a social experiment to study our differences in culture and custom. More recently, the tribe have been visited at their home by none other than Karl Pilkington in the second series of An Idiot Abroad.

If the Duke of Edinburgh were to go to Tanna again, a flying visit isn’t really what the tribesmen have in mind. Their hope is that he will return home to them and stay for the rest of his life. So Prince Philip, whenever you fancy swapping Buckingham Palace for a mud hut: you know who to call.

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