The God of the South Pacific


Prince Philip, the husband of Queen Elizabeth II, once advised English tourists not to spend too much time in China "lest they get-slit eyed" and told the President of Nigeria that his traditional ceremonial robes made him look like he was ready to get into bed. 

So it's completely natural that he draws some peculiar reactions from foreigners. But there's nothing like the reaction he gets from the tribes that inhabit the island of Tanna in Vanuatu, located in the South Pacific Ocean near Australia - for they worship him as the island's God.

The people of Vanuatu had an old folk tale about the son of a mountain spirit who arose from the volcano, left the island to marry an important lady, and would return someday, bringing the comforts of the "white people" with him. At some point in the '50s or '60s, they decided that Prince Philip matched the description perfectly. In 1974, when the chief of the island travelled to meet the royals, who were sailing in the region, one look at the man -looking resplendent in his white navy uniform- had the chief convinced that he was a splitting image of the spirit in the fable. Even though the chief is now dead, he lies in his casket clutching a framed portrait of the Prince.

The islanders are now waiting for the second part of the prophecy to fulfil itself, but Prince Philip seems to show no signs of wanting to cooperate. They were extremely hopeful of a visit to celebrate the Prince's 80th birthday in July 2010, but when he did not appear, an 18-year old Scottish tourist was requested to stand in for him in the festivities.

Meanwhile, the people of Tanna have already prepared a mud hut for Prince Philip, in the hope that he will give up the luxuries of the Buckingham Palace to live with his people. According to the local legend, "At the very moment that he sets foot ashore, mature kava plants [from which an intoxicating spirit is brewed] will sprout all over the island; all the old people will shed their skins like snakes and become young again; there will no more sickness and no more death ... a man will be able to take any woman he wants."

Image: Vanuatu Postal Stamps via