The Cult of Prince Philip: In Tanna, Vanuatu, Prince Philip Was Worshipped As a Deity

Ralph Heimans/Buckingham Palace/PA Wire via Getty Images
Ralph Heimans/Buckingham Palace/PA Wire via Getty Images / Ralph Heimans/Buckingham Palace/PA Wire via Getty Images

Prince Philip, who passed away at the age of 99 on April 9, 2021, was one of the more colorful figures in Britain's Royal Family; he's a man who was famously prone to jarring remarks and quips about women, the deaf, and overweight children.

"You're too fat to be an astronaut," he once told a boy sharing his dream of space travel.

British media delighted in quoting him over the decades, but to some of the people of Yaohnanen, a village in the Pacific island nation of Vanuatu, Prince Philip was much more than Queen Elizabeth II's husband: They worshipped him as a god and even have based a religion on him.

Followers of the Prince Philip Movement, which started in the 1960s, believed that the prince was born to fulfill an ancient prophecy: that the son of an ancient mountain spirit would one day take the form of a pale-skinned man, travel abroad, marry a powerful lady, and eventually return to the island. They soon came to believe that Prince Philip was this person—which made the royal's 1974 visit to Vanuatu an especially seismic event.

Chief Jack Naiva, a respected warrior in the culture, greeted the royal yacht and caught sight of Philip on board. "I saw him standing on the deck in his white uniform," Naiva once said. "I knew then that he was the true messiah."

True believers assigned large world movements to the machinations of Philip. They once claimed his powers had enabled a Black man to become president of the United States and that his "magic" had assisted in helping locate Osama bin Laden. The community has corresponded with Buckingham Palace and even sent Philip a nal-nal, a traditional club for killing pigs, as a token of its appreciation. In return, he sent a portrait in which he’s holding the gift.


The picture is now part of a shrine set up in Yaohnanen in Vanuatu that includes other photos and a Union flag. In May 2017, shortly after the Prince announced his retirement, a cyclone threatened the island—and its shrine. But according to Matthew Baylis, an author who has lived with the tribe, the natives didn't see this so much as a cause for concern as they did a harbinger of the prince's arrival so that he could bask in their worship. 

When news of Philip's death at the age of 99 reached the island on April 9, 2021, Jean-Pascal Wahé of the Vanuatu Cultural Center said that the islanders believe Prince Philip's spirit will come to Tanna and that the group will now worship Prince Charles. 

A version of this story ran in a 2012 issue of Mental Floss magazine. It has been updated for 2021.