Prince Charles will be visiting Vanuatu today as part of his trip to Australia for the Commonwealth Games, but unfortunately it might not be the British prince that some of the islanders had been hoping for.
- Prince Philip is regarded in a very spiritual way to a community of Tanna islanders
- When he visited in 1974 many believed he was a reincarnation of an ancient warrior
- Many believe that Prince Philip actually rules England with the help of the Queen
His father, Prince Philip, may hold a string of grand titles and honours: the Duke of Edinburgh, husband and consort of Queen Elizabeth II, Lord High Admiral of the Royal Navy and even a knight of the Order of Australia.
But for one small community, deep in the rainforests on the southwestern part of the island of Tanna in Vanuatu, he is regarded in a far more spiritual way.
“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,” Mr Baylis said.
“We honour them, remember them, hold ceremonies for them, but we’re not actually worshipping them.”
‘To them Prince Philip rules England with help of the Queen’
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 group of warriors 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 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 Tannese people formed a strong link with Prince Philip, believing him to be a physical representation of the ancient warrior leader returning home with his wife, Queen Elizabeth II.
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,” Mr Huffman told the ABC.
“To them, Prince Philip rules England with the help of the Queen and is very supportive of traditional ways of life.”
He said it is also a belief system that Prince Philip is aware of, with the Duke of Edinburgh having previously welcomed five Tannese men to Windsor Castle for a private meeting in 2007.
‘Philip is just one link to an endless chain’
The 96-year-old Duke of Edinburgh largely retired from public life last year and is resting after a hip replacement earlier this week.
But despite his old age, the villagers believe he will one day return to Tanna, probably in a spiritual form.
“On Tanna there is actually no death in the way we know it, in a way souls get recycled,” explained Mr Huffman.
“Prince Philip is just one link in an ongoing and endless chain … there is no beginning and no end.”
But while Prince Charles’ visit to Vanuatu will excite the locals, Mr Huffman said it is unlikely the villagers will form a similar relationship with the Prince of Wales.
“Interestingly enough, Prince Charles hasn’t turned up in the stories there at all, he doesn’t figure in them,” he said.
“The stories are all fixated on Prince Philip.”
Prince Charles will visit Port Vila today for a short four-hour trip with Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop to inspect how the island nation has recovered from the devastation of category five Tropical Cyclone Pam in 2015.
Tropical Cyclone Pam ravaged Vanuatu, killing at least 15 people.