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Remote tribes mourning the loss of their god-like figure, Prince Philip

U.K. mourns ahead of Prince Philip funeral
U.K. mourns ahead of Prince Philip funeral 03:49

In the U.K., Prince Philip was the Duke of Edinburgh and the Queen's consort – but did you know he was a god-like figure on a small Island in the South Pacific Ocean?

Some villagers on the island of Tanna, which a part of Vanuatu, follow the Prince Philip Movement, and are now mourning the loss of duke, BBC News reports.

The villagers see Prince Philip as a "recycled descendant of a very powerful spirit or god that lives on one of their mountains," anthropologist Kirk Huffman told BBC News.

Tanna locals hold pictures of Prince Philip
Village elder from Tanna island holds a picture of Britain's Prince Philip where he is worshipped in Younanen, Vanuatu May 6, 2017.  Jill Gralow / REUTERS

Huffman has studied the tribes on the island since the 1970s, when it is believed the Prince Philip Movement began. No one knows for sure what sparked the love for the duke, but Huffman says villagers might have seen a picture of him and the queen on the walls of British colonial outposts when Britain and France still controlled the island. 

Others believe the affinity for Prince Philip is a "reaction to colonial presence, a way of re-appropriating and taking back colonial power by associating themselves with someone who sits at the right hand of the ruler of the Commonwealth," Vanuatu-based journalist Dan McGarry told BBC News.

Even though the movement's following has dwindled over the years, some members of the Yakel and Yaohnanen villages still follow Prince Philip. Those who still follow him will likely be conducting ritualistic dances, processions and displaying memorabilia of Prince Philip to remember him, BBC News reports. 

"The connection between the people on the island of Tanna and the English people is very strong ... We are sending condolence messages to the Royal Family and the people of England," tribal leader Chief Yapa said, Reuters reports. 

The villagers live in Tanna's jungles, wear traditional dress and seldom use technology like cellphones, BBC News reports. McGarry says the villages "made an active choice to disavow the modern world."

Though they live near an airport, it's "not a physical distance, it's a metaphysical distance. They're just 3,000 years away," McGarry said.

Their culture sees Tanna as the origin of the world, and they aim to promote peace. Some villagers have come to believe Prince Philip is the fulfillment of a prophecy of a tribesman who "left the island, in his original spiritual form, to find a powerful wife overseas," Huffman said. 

The villagers believe Prince Philip has become one of them and was on a mission to "plant the seed of Tanna kastom [culture] at the heart of the Commonwealth and empire," McGarry said. They believe was trying to bring peace and respect for tradition to England, with the help of his wife.

"If he was successful, then he could return to Tanna – though one thing preventing him was, as they saw it, white people's stupidity, jealousy, greed and perpetual fighting," McGarry said. 

"It's a hero's journey, a person who sets off on a quest and literally wins the princess and the kingdom," he explained. 

Tanna locals hold pictures of Prince Philip
Village chief Jack Malia from Tanna island holds pictures of Britain's Prince Philip and Queen Elizabeth next to other villagers in Younanen where the prince is worshipped, Vanuatu May 6, 2017.  Jill Gralow / REUTERS

Prince Philip has been criticized in the past for being culturally insensitive. However, on this island "he is seen as very supportive and sensitive," Huffman told BBC News.

In 1974, Prince Philip and Queen Elizabeth II visited the island, then known as New Hebrides. The Duke reportedly took part in kava-drinking rituals, as did his son, Prince Charles, during his 2018 visit. 

Following his death, men will drink the ceremonial drink made from the roots of the kava plant. The drink is nonalcoholic but reportedly has psychoactive properties and is used by some native islanders as a medicinal treatment or during religious ceremonies. 

Prince Philip also acknowledged the villagers' affection and sent letters and photographs of himself to tribesmen, who sent him traditional gifts in return, according to BBC News. 

He also privately met five tribal leaders in 2007 when they flew to the U.K. for a reality TV show "Meet the Natives." They gave him gifts and asked when he would return – to which he replied: "When it turns warm, I will send a message." 

In a final act of mourning for the duke, the villagers will hold a significant gathering, McGarry said. "There will be a great deal of wealth on display," including yams, pigs and kava plants.

On Monday, a couple hundred villagers gathered and some gave speeches about Prince Philip – but they also discussed his successor, BBC News reports. 

"They might say, he has left it to Charles to continue his mission," Huffman told BBC News. Even if someone does replace Prince Philip, his movement won't be forgotten. Tribesmen are considering making the movement a political party, Huffman said, 

There was a belief that Prince Philip would return – in person or in spiritual form, Huffman said. So, while he lies in rest in Windsor Castle, it is believed his soul is journeying across Pacific Ocean, back to its spiritual home, Tanna.

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