God is dead: the small island religion that worships the recently-deceased Prince Phillip

Photo by Fabian Wiktor from Pexels

You could be forgiven for not being familiar with the Kastom people around Yaohnanen village on the southern island of Tanna in Vanuatu or the existence of ‘cargo cults’ in general, but with the recent passing of Prince Phillip, for one isolated community this must call to mind some Nietzschean theothanatology

The Prince Phillip Movement might be one of the most unusual among an already curious group of small religious sects found around Melanesia that mostly arose when pre-industrial societies were exposed to modern goods and technology through their interactions with allied military forces during World War 2.

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The proliferation of manufactured goods airdropped to military forces serving in the area at the time, which they would often use to barter with the locals, represented a heavenly bounty for the locals and islanders, often living hunter-gatherer lifestyles of scarcity.

You can imagine, for someone who had never seen an outsider before to behold the wealth of modern military might and the bounty it represented for a life lived in the absence of ‘cargo’.

How did the Greek royal come to figure in the cargo cult catechism?

A Yaohnanen tale told of one of their own number travelling far overseas, being inhabited by a mountain spirit and marrying a powerful woman before returning to them. Seeing the respect shown towards Queen Elizabeth II, especially when the royal couple visited Vanuatu in person in 1974 strengthened the islanders’ belief that this man was the one told of in their tales.

Phillip was beneficent enough to send a photo of himself to the islanders, who were gracious enough to send him a ‘nal-nal‘, a traditional club, which he was in turn nice enough to pose with for a truly bizarre, truly endearing anthropological artefact:

Chief Lalu, from west Tanna, told The Guardian: “Prince Philip was a man who connected Tanna to London. Our fathers and our grandfathers told us this”.

Prince Charles is therefore ‘Man Tanna’: “Prince Philip’s family is Tanna’s family,” he said.

The island community will enter its traditional 100 days’ of mourning, but debates are already ongoing between island chiefs as to who will succeed Prince Phillip in their faith. Some leaders advocate for Prince Charles as the natural successor, while others are less sure, believing that the spirit in question lives on and will take time to determine in who it shall next reside.

What do you think the islanders will decide upon? A linear succession through Charles or another, unknown Man Tanna? Let us know in the poll below!

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