South Pacific Islanders Worship Britain's Prince Philip on His Birthday
LENAKEL, Vanuatu -- The celebrations at London's Buckingham Palace for Prince Philip's 90th birthday Friday were set to be a little more sedate than the party being held in his honor on the other side of the world.
The people of the Yaohnanen tribe in Vanuatu revere the Duke of Edinburgh as a god, and every year on his birthday host a celebration in the hope that he will visit them.
Exactly why villagers on the little South Pacific Island of Tanna worship a Greek-born British royal is a little confusing, but they believe he originated from their island, and was born from the spirit of a local volcano.
The Yasur volcano is still active and spews fire and ash on a daily basis. But legend said that a white man emerged from the volcano and traveled abroad to marry a powerful queen.
In 1974, Queen Elizabeth II and her husband stopped briefly in what was then called the New Hebrides during a voyage aboard the Royal Yacht Britannia.
Local men, including the chief of the Yaohnanen tribe, rowed out to meet them and it seems that was when the connection with Prince Philip was made.
Chief Jack passed away three years ago and despite his disappointment that his god did not return to pay a visit, his grandson Chief Siko remained optimistic.
"He is originally from Tanna. He was born here and he is a spirit being," he told Sky News. "He is a god and when we talk about him and believe in him, it gives us life. We are sure that one day he will come back, and when he does we will organize a [traditional] Toka dance for him."
Thirty years ago there were doubters among the tribe, but Chief Jack arranged for a traditional club to be sent to Buckingham Palace as a gift.
The prince responded by posing for a photograph while holding the club, and signing the picture. Ever since, it has been the centerpiece in a shrine in the simple village on a mountainside.
A more recent signed picture of the Duke of Edinburgh was sent a decade ago.
"The photograph settled an argument. Some believed he was not from Tanna, but when the chief sent the club, and he received it and we saw the picture ... then everyone knows he is from Tanna," said Chief Siko as he sat on a makeshift throne in his hut, with his wife bare-breasted at his side.
The chief had a simple message for the prince on his 90th birthday, "I say to him that all the villages here are preparing to meet him in 2012."