A tribe living on a remote South Pacific Island who believe Prince Philip is their god and the incarnation of a volcano spirit are devastated over his death and have started a ritualistic mourning process that could last for weeks.
The Yaohnanen tribesmen and women on the Vanuatu island of Tanna had been 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.
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 cava.
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 of the news of Prince Philip
‘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.’
Ms Niere said ritualistic wailing is a traditional custom on the island for those dealing with immense grief and could last for weeks.
For decades, the 400-strong community has worshipped Prince Philip, praying everyday that he would protect their banana and yam crops.
It’s not entirely clear how the Prince, who never visited the island, came to be seen as a deity.
It’s believed tribesmen had seen large portraits of him with Queen Elizabeth when they visited Port Vila in the 1960s, and impressed that he had married a ‘powerful white queen’ on the other side of the world, started to believe he was the incarnation of a volcano spirit who would one day return to Tanna.
The Yaohnanen tribesmen hold a framed photograph of Prince Philip, which the Duke of Edinburgh had sent them
Yaohnanen children stand around a bucket of water following the news of Prince Philip’s death
The closest the Duke came to the island was during a trip to the capital Port Vila in 1974. Back then Vanuatu was an Anglo-French colony named New Hebrides.
During the royal visit a warrior from Tanna named Chief Jack Naiva, and others, paddled 240km (150 miles) in a canoe to the capital to greet Prince Phillip as he disembarked the royal yacht Britannia.
From there, the Prince’s godlike status became even more cemented after Chief Naiva became convinced the Duke was sent from the heavens to protect the island and bring its people good fortune.
Inhabitants even speculated the divine intervention of Prince Philip helped to get Barack Obama – a black man – elected President of the United States in 2008, author Matthew Baylis revealed in his book about the Yaohnanen.
They also praised him for keeping cyclones away.
The Yaohnanen tribespeople gather together as they collectively mourn the loss of Prince Philip
The Yaohnanen have begun their ritualistic mourning process, which could take several weeks
Ten thousand miles away in England, Prince Philip was well aware of the Yaohnanen’s admiration for him.
Over the years he sent framed photographs of himself which were turned into a shrine at the village.
In a bizarre series of events, the Yaohnanen sent the Duke a traditional war club called a nal-nal used for hunting pigs and requested that Prince Philip take a picture with it.
The Duke obliged and snapped a photo with their cherished weapon but reportedly asked aids ‘how on earth does one hold a nal-nal?’ before posing with the deadly club.
The Palace sent the photograph across the world to Tanna in 1980 where it has been treated as a sacred item ever since.
Chief Charlie is now set to organise a traditional feast and ceremony to mourn Prince Philip’s death.
The tribe had hoped the Prince would visit the island before his death but now they are certain his spirit will make its way to Tanna.
‘The ladies will come together and get some local food and then they will prepare lap-lap – pig that’s cooked underground in banana leaves,’ Ms Niere said.
‘Men will bring cava and in the afternoon they will all eat it and share it together.’
Livestock including pigs, bullocks and chickens will be slaughtered for the mourning period
Two warriors from the Yaohnanen tribe of the Pacific Island of Tanna, in Vanuatu, holding a picture of Prince Philip with a war club which was sent to him from their village
Sikor Natuan, the son of the local chief, holds two official portraits (one holding a pig-killing club, left) of Prince Philip in front of the chief’s hut in the remote village of Yaohnanen in 2010