VANAUTU – Last week Prince Charles touched down in Vanuatu on a side trip from his visit to Australia for the Commonwealth Games, but unfortunately he might not have been the British prince that some of the islanders had been hoping for.
It is his father, Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, who is regarded in a very spiritual way to a community of Tanna islanders. When he visited in 1974 many believed Philip was a reincarnation of an ancient warrior.
Philip, the husband of the Queen of England, may hold a string of grand titles but for the small community, deep in the rainforests on the southwestern part of the island of Tanna, he is regarded as a an demi-god.
“For them Philip is a tabu man – human but possessing qualities and powers that make him sacred,” Matthew Baylis, the British author of Man Belong Mrs Queen: My Adventures with the Philip Worshippers, who spent time living with the villagers, told the ABC.
He said the people have a special relationship with the Duke of Edinburgh that is more complex than simple worship.
“The closest parallel I can think of is the way we treat our war dead,” Baylis said. “We honour them, remember them, hold ceremonies for them, but we’re not actually worshipping them.”
A group of people living around Yaohnanen village on Tanna have an ancient legend, describing a band of warriors who left the island to fight a war to protect and preserve their culture.
The leader of the warrior group vowed to one day return with a rich, powerful – and white wife.
In 1974, the British Royal family visited Vanuatu – then known as New Hebrides – as part of a tour of the Commonwealth.
While he and Queen Elizabeth did not visit the isolated community, it is said that Prince Philip handed a symbolic white pig to a Tanna man in the country’s capital, Port Vila.
It is believed that from that gesture the Tanna people formed a strong bond with Prince Philip, believing him to be a physical representation of the ancient warrior leader returning home with his wife.
According to Kirk Huffman, a research associate at the Australian Museum in Sydney and honorary curator of the National Museum of Vanuatu, it’s a link they are very serious about.
“On Tanna, traditional spiritual belief systems are a 24/7 situation,” Huffman told the ABC.
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