It takes a hard heart indeed not to be intrigued by the intricacies of a Vanuatuan cargo cult, especially one as puzzling as the Prince Philip Movement. The small sect believes that Queen Elizabeth II’s husband, a native of Greece known primarily for his verbal gaffes, is actually a Vanuatuan spirit in disguise, and that he will someday return to the South Pacific nation to bestow unfettered joy on the populace.
And what does Prince Philip think of all this misguided adulation? According to this recent Australian documentary on the cult, he seems bent on tacitly encouraging the worship. A passage from the show’s transcript:
Today the village of Yaohnanen has something to celebrate. It’s Prince Philip’s 89th birthday, and they’re preparing to throw a party for all the surrounding villages. The Duke of Edinburgh is well aware of his exalted status on Tanna. Over the past 20 years he’s been a discreet accomplice in the cult that’s grown up around him – sending photos and receiving the occasional gift.
CHIEF SIKO NATHUAN (Translation): Some people say he comes from England or Greece. But our grandfathers carved a club for pig-killing and sent it off to him with the message that if you’re from Tanna, hold this club in your hand and everybody in the world will know you’re from Tanna. This is the club he’s holding. It was carved here and sent to him. And he kept it to show he’s from Tanna.
Buckingham Palace offers a less-than-spirited response to the documentary’s charges of complicity here. Suffice to say that I find Prince Philip’s actions more than a little irritating. He could easily have squashed the cult long ago by denying his divinity. But perhaps he feels, rather condescendingly, that this cult is a net positive for its followers. Or maybe he just loves the attention—though I can’t see how a lifetime in the British Royal bubble wouldn’t leave him satisfied on that front.