A tribe living on a remote South Pacific Island who believe Prince Philip is their god and the incarnation of a volcano spirit may anoint his son Prince Charles as his successor.
The tribesmen and women on the island of Tanna in Vanuatu are devastated by his death and have started a three-month ritualistic mourning process.
For the next 100 days, elders will gather at a clearing shaded by an ancient, massive banyan tree to air thoughts and drink kava – a peppery, mildly intoxicating root drink that is a vital part of important ceremonies in the islands.
While most chiefs wear little more than a penis gourd, proceedings unfold with the gravity of a papal conclave, as worshippers mull the future of their spiritual movement without its figurehead Prince Philip.
‘The connection that we’ve had with the royal family will endure,’ chief of Yaohnanen Jack Malia said.
Yaohnanen tribesmen on the Pacific Island of Tanna, in Vanuatu, hold a framed photo of Prince Philip following the news of his death
Most worshippers favour Prince Charles to take his father’s place in their heart, but they fervently want him to do something his father never achieved – visit the island-dwellers who hold him so dear.
Chief Malia said that spiritually Philip was always part of the villagers’ lives, but ‘we never got to see him’ as the royal consort never set foot on Tanna.
‘We never got the chance to meet face to face like you and me right now,’ he said.
‘If [Prince Charles] would agree to come some day, then he must come down here so that we can sit together and talk.’
For many, Charles sealed the succession in 2018 when he attended a kava ceremony in Port Vila and was given the title Mal Menaringmanu – signifying a high chief sitting like an eagle on a mountaintop, watching over his people.
However, not everyone in the tribe views their god’s earthly son as his automatic spiritual heir.
Chief Albi (pictured holding a photo of Prince Philip) said it was unclear how the religious movement would change following Philip’s death because villagers believed his spirit was now adrift and seeking a new ‘home’
‘The spirit of Prince Philip has left his body, but it lives on – it is too soon to say where it will reside,’ Yakel chief Albi said.
Chief Albi said it was unclear how the religious movement would change following Philip’s death because villagers believed his spirit was now adrift and seeking a new ‘home’.
Beneath a British flag flying at half mast, Albi joined elders on Monday in Yaohnanen 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.
Ikunala village Chief Yapa holds photos of himself and four other local men with Prince Philip, taken during their 2007 trip to England
The Yaohnanen tribesmen hold a framed photograph of Prince Philip, which the Duke of Edinburgh had sent them
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.
‘In 2007 we were taken to England. The connection between the people on the Island of Tanna and the English people is very strong,’ village chief Yapa said in a video message to the royal family while clutching a photo showing the tribesmen meeting the late royal.
‘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.
The Yaohnanen tribeswomen console their children after learning of the news of Prince Philip
Inter-island flights operate from Port Vila to Tanna daily with Air Vanuatu. There is only one flight per day, departing in the morning, except for Thursdays and Saturdays when there are two flights daily departing early morning and early afternoon. This is where the tribe of 400 people live
‘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.
Yaohnanen children stand around a bucket of water following the news of Prince Philip’s death
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
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.
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.
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
Livestock including pigs, bullocks and chickens will be slaughtered for the mourning period
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
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.’
Access to Yaohnanen and Yakel still involves a gruelling drive on a pot-holed road running through lush volcanic jungle, but these days trucks roar along a newly-constructed highway just a few kilometres away.
Such modern developments hold little interest for the villagers though as they proudly maintain a kastom way of life that has changed little in 3,000 years.
It is a rich tradition of story-telling and legend, replete with magic and spiritualism, giving rise to the firm belief among the Tanna villagers that Philip is one of them.
While Philip – renowned for his gaffes and hailed as ‘legend of banter’ by grandson Prince Harry – may seem an unlikely deity to Western eyes, his role is deeply engrained in Tanna’s ‘kastom’, or customary, belief system.
‘Prince Philip is from Tanna,’ chief Willie Lop, head of the Tanna island council of chiefs, said. ‘He rode his horse down to the south of the island, and leapt into the sea.’
Asked how a white man can come from Tanna, he replied flatly: ‘Prince Philip is a black man. If he turned white, it happened in some other country. But Prince Philip is a black man.’
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