TANNA ISLAND, VANUATU - The retirement of Britain’s Prince Philip from public life led world headlines Thursday, but his most devout and remote followers have only just heard the news.
A tribe in Vanuatu was shocked and dismayed to discover Saturday that the man they pray to as the son of an ancestral local mountain god will likely never return to their Pacific Island home.
The British royal, who said he would no longer take part in public engagements, alone or alongside his wife, Queen Elizabeth II, is part of the fabric of life in the village of Younanen on Tanna Island.
Daily prayers for blessing
Villagers pray to the 95-year-old prince daily, asking for his blessing on the banana and yam crops that make their primitive and extremely poor community self-sufficient.
“If he comes one day the people will not be poor, there will be no sickness, no debt and the garden will be growing very well,” village chief Jack Malia told Reuters through an interpreter at the village’s Nakamal, a traditional meeting place where the men gather at night to drink highly intoxicating kava.
Villagers have several photos of the prince, including one dated 1980 of him in a suit, holding a club they made for him and sent to London.
“Prince Philip has said one day he will come and visit us,” said Malia, who was born in 1964 but did not know his birthday.
“We still believe that he will come but if he doesn’t come, the pictures that I am holding ... it means nothing.”
Local legend and Philip
According to local legend, the pale-skinned son of the mountain god had ventured across the seas to look for a rich and powerful woman to marry.
Anthropologists believe Philip, who fitted the bill by marrying a powerful woman, became linked to the legend in the 1960s when Vanuatu was an Anglo-French colony known as the New Hebrides. Villagers at the time were likely to have seen portraits of Philip and the Queen at government offices and police stations run by colonial officials.
The belief that Philip, also known as the Duke of Edinburgh, was indeed the traveling son was reinforced in 1974 when he and the Queen made an official visit to the New Hebrides.
“Prince Philip is important to us because our ancestors told us that part of our custom is in England,” said Malia, who took over from his father as village chief in 2003.