Vanuatu's Prince Philip worshippers say his spirit lives on

Prince Philip’s spirit ‘lives on’ and is seeking a new body, say villagers on Vanuatu island where the Duke of Edinburgh was worshipped like a god

  • The chief of a remote South Pacific village has said Prince Philip’s spirit ‘lives on’  
  • People in Yakel on Vanuatu island of Tanna have for decades venerated Philip 
  • Village chief Albi said it was unclear how the religious movement would change 

 The chief of a remote South Pacific village that worshipped Prince Philip with religious fervour has said that his spirit ‘lives on’ and is now seeking a new body.  

People from the Yakel village on the Vanuatu island of Tanna have for decades venerated Philip, who died at Windsor Castle last week at the age of 99.

Yakel chief Albi said it was unclear how the religious movement would change following Philip’s death because villagers believe his spirit was now adrift and seeking a new ‘home’.

The Prince Philip Movement is believed to have started in the late 1970s following a visit by the Duke of Edinburgh to Vanuatu earlier that decade

Men in traditional dress line the road during a visit by Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip to Port Vila, Vanuatu, off the north-east coast of Australia, February 1974

Yakel village chief Albi, centre, sits with members of his family, in the remote South Pacific village of Vanuatu as they mourn the death of the Duke on April 12

While many outsiders assumed Philip’s eldest son Charles or grandsons William and Harry would succeed him in having a special place in the villagers’ hearts, Albi said nothing was certain.

‘The spirit of Prince Philip has left his body, but it lives on. It is too soon to say where it will reside,’ he told AFP.

Beneath a British flag flying at half mast, Albi joined elders Monday at Yaohnanen – another village that worships Philip – to debate how to mark the Duke’s death.

Chiefs spoke in turn during painstaking discussions on what the death means for their customary belief system, with a resolution likely to be days away.

Albi had words of comfort for the Queen, wishing her joy because even though Philip’s body was lost, his spirit lived on.

A Yakel tribesman looks on in the remote village

Ikunala village Chief Yapa holds photos of himself and four other local men with Prince Philip, taken when they traveled to Britain in 2007, on Tanna island in Vanuatu as he sends their condolences after the Duke passed away at age 99 on Friday

The Yakel chiefs said they were sending a confidential message to the royal family following Philip’s passing.

The Prince Philip Movement is believed to have started in the late 1970s following a visit by the Duke of Edinburgh to Vanuatu in 1974.

British officials investigating the phenomenon concluded it stemmed from an age-old legend of a returning son who had pale skin.

Upon learning that Greek-born Philip was not born in England, France or the United States, they may have decided that the Duke must, therefore, be from Tanna.

Anthropologists say the movement is a way for villagers on the lush volcanic island to find a spiritual connection to the outside world.

In other villages on Tanna, locals are part of the so-called John Frum Movement, a similar cult which stems from the appearance of a pale-skinned stranger in the 1930s.

Adherents to the movement, which encourages the return to traditional customs of dancing and kava-drinking, believe that a hero, ‘John Frum’ will one day return, bringing with him the riches seen in the hands of American GIs during World War II, including radios and cars.

The Yaohnanen tribesmen and women on the Vanuatu island of Tanna were devastated with the news of Prince Philip’s death and have started a ritualistic mourning process that could last for weeks. 

Yaohnanen tribesmen on the Pacific Island of Tanna, in Vanuatu, hold a framed photo of Prince Philip following the news of his death

The Yaohnanen tribeswomen console their children after learning about Prince Philip’s death

The islanders were asleep when the Duke of Edinburgh’s death was announced to the world on Friday night and were up early to harvest yams the following morning. 

They were not aware of the tragic news until a woman from a nearby resort told them when they returned from their work on Saturday afternoon. 

The tribe’s sorrow was immediately evident as women burst into tears and heartbroken men fell silent as they tried to comfort their children. 

Village chief Yapa said, holding a photo showing the tribesmen meeting the late Royal: ‘In 2007 we were taken to England. The connection between the people on the Island of Tanna and the English people is very strong.

‘We are sending condolence messages to the Royal Family and the people of England.’

Mary Niere, who works as an accountant at the White Grass Ocean Resort and Spa, told Daily Mail Australia the village was mostly empty when she arrived but there was an elderly man sitting at the nakamal – where the men meet and drink kava.

‘When I told him he was shocked and asked if I was telling the truth because he couldn’t believe it,’ she said.

‘They had to send messages to the yam garden to get the people back and when the chief (Charlie) came and everyone found out. They were very, very sad.

‘The men were silent and looking down. Many of the women were very emotional and crying a lot.’

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