Prince Philip movement

Yaohnanen people in 2012, showing pictures of the 2007 visit by Prince Philip

The Prince Philip movement is a religious sect followed by the Kastom people around the villages of Yaohnanen and Yakel on the southern island of Tanna in Vanuatu. It is a cargo cult of the Yaohnanen tribe,[1] who believe in the divinity of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh (1921–2021), the former consort to Queen Elizabeth II.


According to ancient Yaohnanen tales, the son of a mountain spirit travelled over the seas to a distant land. There, he married a powerful woman and in time would return to them. He was sometimes said to be a brother to John Frum.[2]

The people of the Yaohnanen and Takel area believe in the divinity of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, the consort to Queen Elizabeth II. They had seen the respect accorded to Queen Elizabeth II by the colonial officials and concluded that her husband, Prince Philip, must be the son referred to in their legends.[2][3]

It is unclear just when this belief came about, but it was probably some time in the 1950s or 1960s. It was strengthened by the royal couple's official visit to Vanuatu in 1974, when a few villagers had the opportunity to actually see Prince Philip from a distance.[2] The Prince was not then aware of the sect, but it was brought to his attention several years later by John Champion, the British Resident Commissioner in the New Hebrides.[4][2]

Interactions with Prince Philip

Champion suggested that Prince Philip send them a portrait of himself. He agreed and sent a signed official photograph. The villagers responded by sending him a traditional pig-killing club called a nal-nal. In compliance with their request, the Prince sent a photograph of himself posing with the club.[2] Another photograph was sent in 2000. All three photographs were kept by Chief Jack Naiva,[5] who died in 2009.

Anne, Princess Royal, visited Tanna Island in October 2014.[6][7] She is the only daughter of Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip. She had visited Vanuatu in 1974, but had not previously travelled to the island.[8] Charles, Prince of Wales visited the island in 2018.[9]

On 27 September 2007, Channel 4 broadcast Meet the Natives, a reality show about five Tanna men from the Prince Philip Movement on a visit to Britain. Their trip culminated in an off-screen audience with Philip, where gifts were exchanged, including a new photograph of the Prince.[10]

The sect celebrated the 2018 wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle by holding a party, where they hoisted the Union Jack, danced, and ate pigs. The villagers were initially unaware of the wedding, until a travel agent for the island, who was contacted by The Times, relayed the message.[11]

Reaction to Prince Philip's death

In April 2021 the sect mourned Prince Philip's death. Village Chief Albi said that he was "terribly, terribly sorry" that he died and tribal leader Chief Yapa sent his condolences to the Royal Family and the people of the UK. The Union Flag was flown at half mast on the grounds of the nakamal. A formal mourning period was declared and many tribespeople gathered on 12 April in a ceremony to remember the Duke, where men took turns to speak and pay tribute to him. For the next few weeks, villagers met periodically to conduct rites for him, who they see as a "recycled descendant of a very powerful spirit or god that lives on one of their mountains". They conducted ritualistic dance, held a procession, and displayed memorabilia of the Duke, while the men drank kava, a ceremonial drink made from the roots of the kava plant. The period of mourning culminated with a "significant gathering" where a great deal of yams and kava plants were on display. Numerous pigs were also killed for the ceremony. Referring to the Queen, Chief Jack Malia said though the Duke is dead, they still have a connection with the 'mother' of the royal family.[3][12][13] Many of the tribesmen believe that while his body lies at rest, the Duke's soul will return to "its spiritual home, the island of Tanna".[3]

Kirk Huffman, an anthropologist familiar with the group, said that after their period of mourning the group would probably transfer their veneration to Prince Charles, who had visited Vanuatu in 2018 and met with some of the tribal leaders.[14]

Media coverage

In 2010, Australian journalist Amos Roberts visited Tanna and reported on the locals' celebration of Philip's 89th birthday, for SBS's magazine program Dateline.[1]

In 2011, the people of Yaohnanen village were featured in an episode of the second series of An Idiot Abroad with Karl Pilkington.[15]

In 2013, Man Belong Mrs Queen, a book by British writer Matthew Baylis, investigated the historical and anthropological origins of the movement and provided an account of the author's own stay on the island of Tanna.[16]

Kate Humble talks to locals about the movement in Kate Humble: Into the Volcano, a TV documentary about Mount Yasur broadcast on BBC Two in January 2015.[17]

In 2018, the Australian podcast Zealot documented the Prince Philip Movement in episode 13.[18]

The six-part 2018 TV documentary, The Pacific: In the Wake of Captain Cook with Sam Neill, included a segment featuring the Prince Philip movement.[19]


  1. ^ a b Roberts, Amos (8 August 2010). "Waiting for Philip". Broadcast. Archived from the original on 30 September 2014.
  2. ^ a b c d e Davies, Caroline (10 April 2021). "Prince Philip: the unlikely but willing Pacific deity". The Guardian. Retrieved 10 April 2021.
  3. ^ a b c "Prince Philip: The Vanuatu tribes mourning the death of their 'god'". BBC News. 12 April 2021. Retrieved 12 April 2021.
  4. ^ "The island that worships Prince Philip is disappointed by his retirement". Royal Central. Retrieved 16 November 2018.
  5. ^ Squires, Nick (27 February 2007). "South Sea tribe prepares birthday feast for their favourite god, Prince Philip". The Daily Telegraph.
  6. ^ "Vanuatu daily news digest". Vanuatu Daily Digest. 31 October 2014. Archived from the original on 2 September 2015. Retrieved 29 November 2014.
  7. ^ "Princess Anne on the island where they think her father Prince Philip is a god". Daily Express. 31 October 2014. Retrieved 29 November 2014.
  8. ^ "Princess Anne to visit island where Prince Philip is worshipped as a god". Metro. 28 September 2014. Retrieved 28 September 2014.
  9. ^ "Prince Charles gets new Chief title on Vanuatu". BBC News. 7 April 2018. Retrieved 10 April 2021.
  10. ^ Hoggart, Paul (11 September 2007). "Meet the Natives". Broadcast. Retrieved 25 April 2019.
  11. ^ Sydney, Bernard Lagan. "Royal wedding: Duke cult islanders celebrate with a feast". ISSN 0140-0460. Retrieved 12 April 2021.
  12. ^ McGarry, Dan (12 April 2021). "Vanuatu's Prince Philip worshippers say his spirit lives on". eNCA. Agence France-Presse. Retrieved 12 April 2021.
  13. ^ "Prince Philip: The tribe on the island of Vanuatu that worshipped the Duke of Edinburgh as a god mourn his death". ITV. 12 April 2021. Retrieved 12 April 2021.
  14. ^ Squires, Nick (9 April 2021). "Spiritual succession: Vanuatu tribe who worshipped Prince Philip as a god will now deify Charles". The Telegraph.
  15. ^ "An Idiot Abroad 2 Episode 1: Desert Island". Sky1 HD.
  16. ^ Man Belong Mrs Queen Baylis, Matthew (2013) Old Street Publishing. ISBN 978-190869964-0
  17. ^ Kate Humble: Into the Volcano, BBC Two, 8 to 9 pm, 4 January 2015
  18. ^ Zealot 13 Prince Philip Movement with Rowdie Walden, retrieved 16 November 2018
  19. ^ "A study guide by Robert Lewis". Australian Teachers of Media. Retrieved 8 March 2021.

Further reading

External links


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