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The Prince Philip Movement: Pacific Tribe Mourns Loss of Living Deity

The Prince Philip Movement: Pacific Tribe Mourns Loss of Living Deity

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The death of Prince Philip has brought sorrow to people throughout the United Kingdom. Surprisingly, those feelings of loss and sadness are even shared by people living on the opposite side of the globe, on one tiny island that belongs to the Pacific island nation of Vanuatu. The Vanuatu people of Tanna island have been worshippers of the Prince Philip Movement since the mid-1970s.

While Prince Philip was respected as a man of honor and dignity in his homeland, in the villages of Yaohnanen and Yakel on the island of Tanna he was revered as the living embodiment or avatar of an exalted spiritual being . For this reason, the passing of the Duke of Edinburgh, last week has been a big moment for the Prince Philip Movement of Tanna island, Vanuatu.

For reasons that remain obscure, the villagers were convinced that the Duke of Edinburgh was “a recycled descendant of a very powerful spirit or god that lives on one of their mountains,” explained Kirk Huffman, a British anthropologist who has spent more than four decades living and working in Vanuatu.

Vanuatu has been independent since 1980, but for most of the 20 th century it was a territory under the nominal and shared political control of France and Britain. In 1974, Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip paid a visit to the island nation, then known as the New Hebrides, and the Prince conferred with village leaders from Yaohnanen at that time.

The villagers’ beliefs about Prince Philip’s true identity did not originate as a result of this visit. But the prince’s physical presence in their midst undoubtedly reinforced those beliefs and helped guarantee the Prince Philip Movement would remain a vital force on the island of Tanna in the years to come.

“The connection between the people on the island of Tanna and the English people is very strong,” said village elder Chief Yapa, in a statement issued after he received news of the Prince’s passing. “We are sending condolence messages to the Royal Family and the people of England.”

Over the next few weeks, the people of Yaohnanen and Yakel will be holding a series of ceremonies and ritual celebrations, to honor Prince Philip’s memory and acknowledge the profound effect he had on their lives.

In the spiritual lore of the people of Tanna island there is a story of a mountain spirit that descends to earth in human form. And this is the "spiritual" basis of the Prince Philip Movement. (Wmpearl / )

The Mythological Origins of the Prince Philip Movement

In the spiritual lore of the people of Yaohnanen and Yakel, there is a story told of the son of a mountain spirit who comes to earth in human form. After travelling across the ocean, he meets and marries a powerful and influential woman, and together the two of them devote their lives to achieving peace and teaching respect for traditional ways of living. Once his mission was complete, the son of the spirit would be free to return to the islands and to his people, where his presence would continue to bring good fortune. This legend became the basis of the Prince Philip Movement.

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Crop of photograph of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, by Allan Warren ( CC BY-SA 3.0 )

The Prince Philip Movement was born in the late 1950s or early 1960s, when the villagers of Tanna became convinced that Prince Philip represented the fulfillment of the mountain spirit prophecy.

In general, the English were more disposed to granting the New Hebrides its freedom and independence than the French, and consequently English leaders may have been viewed more favorably by the people as a whole during the late colonial period.

Whatever the origin of the villagers’ belief that they were spiritually and metaphysically connected to Prince Philip, they were convinced of the righteousness of his intentions.

As their holy messenger, the Duke of Edinburgh ’s purpose was “to literally plant the seed of Tanna kastom [traditional Melanesian culture and beliefs] at the heart of the Commonwealth and empire,” said journalist Dan McGarry, the Media Director of the Vanuatu Daily Post. “It is a hero’s journey, a person who sets off on a quest and literally wins the princess and the kingdom.”

At the height of its popularity, the Prince Philip Movement had thousands of followers on Tanna. The numbers are lower now, but the movement still persists and there has been recent talk among its followers of starting a new political party with the prince as its eternal patron.

Cargo Cults: The John Frum Movement Came First

Despite the prominence of the person upon whom it was focused, the Prince Philip Movement is not the largest or most influential grassroots religious sect in Vanuatu. That distinction belongs to the John Frum Movement , which first introduced the idea of an outside savior or redeemer to the people of Vanuatu in the late 1930s or early 1940s.

The three flags of the John Frum Movement, a cargo cult that dates back to the late 1930s or early 1940s AD. The John Frum cargo cult is seen as the predecessor of the Prince Philip Movement. (Flickr user Charmaine Tham / CC BY 2.0 )

At various times, Frum has been alternatively identified as an American World War II era servicemen (many were stationed in the New Hebrides), an island native named Manehivi who assumed the alias “John Frum,” or a spirit being that manifested during a kava-drinking session. Regardless of his origins, followers of the John Frum Movement believed he would return to the islands at a future date, showing gifts and other blessings on the people who had believed in his message and his goodness.

This movement and the Prince Philip Movement are examples of cargo cults , millenarian belief systems in which adherents perform rituals which they believe will cause a more technologically advanced society to deliver goods to them. These cults were first described in Melanesia in the wake of contact with allied military forces during the Second World War.

While not quite as large as it once was, the John Frum Movement has continued to exert an effect on island affairs, both as a religious group and as a political party, the latter of which has been in existence for more than 60 years.

The Prince Philip Movement can perhaps best be seen as an offshoot or derivative of the John Frum Movement. While Frum himself seems to have been a mythical figure, Prince Philip was obviously very real and could therefore personify the archetype of the redemptive figure that the people of Vanuatu craved.

This desire for a savior or redeemer may have been triggered by the sense of repression people felt while Vanuatu was under European control. But even after the colonial era ended and independence was achieved, these vibrant and inspiring movements obviously continued to bring meaning and purpose to the lives of those who embraced them.

Is the “Prince Charles Movement” Next?

After Prince Philip’s Vanuatu visit in 1974, letters and photos were exchanged, including one treasured image that showed the prince carrying a traditional war club known as a nal-nal, which the people of Tanna had given his as a present. It was often said that the prince would return to Vanuatu again once his mission was complete, bearing gifts and rewards that would bear testament to his successes and dedication to his people.

“We are so sad that he will not come now,” said Movement follower Joe Ketu, during an interview with the Daily Mail . “But we have already begun to see some of his promises coming true, because roads are being built and medical facilities are being built.”

Prince Charles, the son of Prince Philip, is expected to take over the British throne by the islanders of Tanna, Vanuatu. (Palácio do Planalto / CC BY 2.0 )

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Even though the prince will not be returning to Tanna in physical form, followers of the movement are pleased to know that his spirit has been set free and will now be able to return to its true spiritual home, according to Huffman.

Despite the death of its inspiration, the Prince Philip Movement will live on, with Prince Charles most likely anointed as his father’s successor.

“We have hope that before he died Prince Philip told Prince Charles and all the rest of his family to look after us - yes, I'm sure that is something he would have done,” Ketu said.

Prince Charles visited Vanuatu in 2018 . He was warmly welcomed by a representative of village of Yaohnanen at that time, and they spoke about the movement that had elevated his father to such a lofty and unique position. That movement could soon do the same for Prince Charles if he ascends to the British throne.

Vanuatu tribe mourns the death of its fallen 'god,' Prince Philip

To most, Prince Philip was Queen Elizabeth II’s husband — consort to the head of the Royal Family of the United Kingdom.

But the Duke of Edinburgh was something much greater in the eyes of a tribe in Vanuatu, a string of islands off Australia in the South Pacific Ocean. To them, he was a standard-bearer for everything they value in society.

Hundreds on the Vanuatu island of Tanna are mourning Philip as a fallen deity, after worshipping him for decades as the prophesized incarnation of “kastom” — a word for their cultural values and the ideal of promoting peace in the world.

The tribespeople, who live in the villages of Yakel and Yaohnanen, are part of a so-called “cargo cult” named the Prince Philip Movement, which has been around since the 1960s. The group lives a traditional, low-tech lifestyle by choice on Tanna, according to anthropologist Kirk Huffman.

They believe that Philip was the pale son of a mountain god who “left the island, in his original spiritual form, to find a powerful wife overseas,” Huffman told BBC News.

“Ruling the U.K. with the help of the Queen, he was trying to bring peace and respect for tradition to England and other parts of the world,” said Huffman, who has studied the group for decades. “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.”

Locals would pray to Prince Philip on a daily basis, asking him to bless their yam and banana crops or posting his photos in their homes, Reuters reports.

In this Sunday, May 31, 2015 file photo, Albi Nagia poses with photographs of Prince Philip in Yakel, Tanna island, Vanuatu.

Philip’s death at the age of 99 last week has plunged the island into mourning, dashing believers’ hopes that he would one day return.

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

The prince visited the island with Queen Elizabeth in 1974, when it was known as New Hebrides under British and French control. Philip did not know that he was revered upon his arrival, but he soon found out when the locals held a tribal ritual for him and gave him kava to drink.

The duke never publicly rejected or corrected the tribe’s belief in his divinity. Instead, he sent them a photo of himself upon learning of their love in the late 1970s, and posed for a second photo after they sent him their best pig-killing club.

Those photos, along with a third that he sent in 2000, are now kept by the village chief.

Prince Philip had an off-camera meeting with five tribespeople in 2007, after a reality TV show arranged to fly them to the U.K. for the encounter. His son, Prince Charles, also visited Tanna in 2018 and participated in the same ritual as his father, though he is not venerated in the same way.

It’s unclear if the tribe will shift their focus to Charles or someone else. Discussions are reportedly already underway about the future of the faith, which has dwindled from thousands down to a few hundred members.

Huffman says the group emerged from the cult of John Frum — a mystery figure who likely delivered supplies to the island as a member of the U.S. military in the 1930s. Islanders in the South Pacific saw such deliveries as gifts from heaven, and they established a belief system and rituals around the occasional air-dropped aid.

It’s unknown why they fixated on Prince Philip in later years, but Huffman says they may have been inspired by photos of him with the Queen at British colonial outposts on the island.

Dan McGarry, a Vanuatu-based journalist, told BBC News that faith in Philip might be a way of reframing the British colonial presence. He suggested that the locals were “taking back colonial power by associating themselves with someone who sits at the right hand of the ruler of the Commonwealth.”

Believers planned to honour Philip on Monday with songs, dancing, pig-roasts and kava.

Death of Prince Philip will be met with ‘ritual wailing’ on island where he’s a ‘god’

The death of Prince Philip is certain to be met with great grief and much “ritual wailing” by villagers on a tiny island in the South Pacific — where they worship him like a god.

Some 700 villagers on the island of Tanna ascribe to the so-called Prince Philip Movement, believing he was the son of a mountain deity who would one day return to “heal the land.”

Torsten Blackwood/AFP via Getty Images

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“They will be very upset when they hear what happened,” Jean-Pascal Wahe of the Vanuatu Cultural Center told The Post on Friday, as he prepared to make the four-hour drive through the rainforest to break the news to tribe members.

“The prince was a very important man to us all and it’s a great loss,” he said.

“I was very upset to hear the news myself and it is now my duty to abandon my plans for the weekend with my family to drive to tell the others.”

Philip made quite an impression in the tropical rainforest village of Yaohnanenon during visits there over the decades, even after the island’s archipelago gained independence from the UK in 1980.

“They were hoping he would return in person,” anthropologist Kirk Huffman said of Philip in February.

“But they will imagine his spirit might come back to the island.”

News of Philip’s passing will hit them hard, Huffman said.

“They will be in grief-stricken mourning,” he said. “There will be ritual wailing and also a series of dances that encapsulate parts of the island’s history.”

South Pacific island tribe mourns death of ‘god’ Prince Philip

The South China Morning Post (SCMP), with its Sunday edition, the Sunday Morning Post, is a Hong Kong-based English-language newspaper founded in 1903. It is Hong Kong’s newspaper of record, owned by Alibaba Group.

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South China Morning Post published this video item, entitled “South Pacific island tribe mourns death of ‘god’ Prince Philip” – below is their description.

Ceremonies are being held across the world to commemorate Prince Philip, who died in Windsor Castle in the UK on April 9, 2021, at the age of 99. In the South Pacific, people living on the island of Tanna are among those sending condolences to the royal family and the British people. A local cult on the island called the “Prince Philip Movement” will also hold special ceremonies to remember the Duke of Edinburgh.

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Pacific island that worshipped Prince Philip 'as God' struck by 5.2 earthquake

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The group, based in villages on the island of Tanna which is part of the remote island nation of Vanuatu revered the Duke of Edinburgh and believed him to be a reincarnation of an ancient warrior who left the island to fight a war. The heavily spiritual group in Yaohnanen and surrounding villages felt the leader of the fighters would return to the islands with a rich white wife.

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The 5.2 magnitude earthquake struck near the island which occurred at 3:15 pm local time.

The earthquake occurred at an intermediate depth of 96 km near Isangel, Tafea Province and residents of Tanna felt minor shakes.

Following the Duke's death, Kirk Huffman, an authority on what is known as the Prince Philip Movement on the Island, told the Daily Telegraph: "I imagine there will be some ritual wailing, some special dances.

"There will be a focus on the men drinking kava (an infusion made from the root of a pepper plant) - it is the key to opening the door to the intangible world.

The Earthquake occured in the early hours of this morning (Image: Getty)

Tanna in the South Pacific (Image: Getty)

"On Tanna it is not drunk as a means of getting drunk. It connects the material world with the non-material world."

He added the islanders could continue their beliefs with Prince Charles, who most recently visited Vanuatu in 2018.

There, the Prince of Wales met Jimmy Joseph, from the village of Yaohnanen, during a tour of the country, formerly known as the New Hebrides.

The prince warmly shook Mr Joseph's hand as he was presented with a gift.

The Earthquake struck in the early hours of the morning (Image: Getty)

Mr Joseph said: "I gave him a walking stick for his father made by the hands of the Prince Philip Movement.

"I told him a lot of people in the movement have now died but there are some still living.

"The prince said he would deliver the message personally."

Elsewhere in the South Pacific and Oceania, tributes came flooding in following the death of the Duke of Edinburgh yesterday morning at Windsor Castle.

Location of the Earthquake (Image: USGS/Express Newspapers )

Jacinda Arden, Prime Minister of New Zealand, said: "Prince Philip will be fondly remembered for the encouragement he gave to so many young New Zealanders through The Duke of Edinburgh's Hillary Award.

"In over fifty years of The Award in New Zealand, thousands of young people have completed life-changing challenges through the programme."

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison offered his country's "deepest sympathies and condolences" to Queen Elizabeth II on the passing of Prince Philip.

"While your strength and stay, your Majesty, may now have passed, Jenny and I pray that you will find great comfort in your faith, in your family, at this time," he said. "But we also, your Majesty, say to you as a Commonwealth, let us also now be your strength and stay as you continue to endure, as you continue to serve so loyally and so faithfully, as you have done over so many generations."

He added: "She has been there for us over such a long time, let us be there now for you, your Majesty, and allow us to send our love to you on this, I'm sure, one of your most sad of days."

Prime Minister of Fiji Voreqe Bainimarama added Fijians would join the world in waving the late Prince Philip one final goodbye.

In a statement, Mr Bainimarama said he will never forget the stories his parents told him of Prince Philip&rsquos visit to Fiji in 1953 and his warm embrace of our islands in the years that followed.

ɺ hero's journey'

For half a century, the Prince Philip Movement thrived in the villages of Yakel and Yaohnanen - at its height, it had several thousand followers, though numbers are thought to have dwindled to a few hundred.

The villagers live in Tanna's jungles and continue to practise their ancestral customs. Wearing traditional dress is still common, and while they maintain strong links with society, money and modern technology such as mobile phones are seldom used within their own community.

Though they live only several kilometres from the nearest airport, "they just made an active choice to disavow the modern world. It's not a physical distance, it's a metaphysical distance. They're just 3,000 years away," says Mr McGarry, who has frequently met the villagers.

The villagers' centuries-old "kastom", or culture and way of life, sees Tanna as the origin of the world and aims to promote peace - and this is where Prince Philip has played a central role.

Over time, the villagers have come to believe he is one of them - the fulfilment of a prophecy of a tribesman who has "left the island, in his original spiritual form, to find a powerful wife overseas", says Mr Huffman.

"Ruling the UK with the help of the Queen, he was trying to bring peace and respect for tradition to England and other parts of the world. 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."

With his "mission to literally plant the seed of Tanna kastom at the heart of the Commonwealth and empire", the duke was thus seen as the living embodiment of their culture, says Mr McGarry.

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

Nobody is sure exactly how or why the movement began, though there are various theories.

One idea, according to Mr Huffman, is that villagers may have seen his picture along with the Queen's on the walls of British colonial outposts when Vanuatu was still known as New Hebrides, a colony administered jointly by Britain and France.

Another interpretation is that it emerged as 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", says Mr McGarry, pointing to the sometimes violent colonial history of Vanuatu.

But experts are certain that by the 1970s, the Prince Philip Movement already existed, cemented by the royal couple's visit in 1974 to New Hebrides where the duke reportedly took part in kava-drinking rituals.

What did Prince Philip make of it all? Publicly, he appeared to accept their reverence, sending several letters and photographs of himself to the tribesmen, who in turn have plied him with traditional gifts over the years.

One of their first presents was a ceremonial club called a nal-nal, given at a 1978 meeting convened by villagers to ask for more information about Prince Philip, which Mr Huffman attended.

"So the British resident commissioner went down, made a presentation of photos of Prince Philip. Hundreds of these people were just waiting around, sitting or standing under the bushes. It was so quiet, we could hear a pin drop," says Mr Huffman.

"One of the chiefs then gave a club to pass to Prince Philip, and wanted proof that he received it."

It was sent all the way to the UK, where pictures of the duke holding the club were taken and sent back to the villagers. Those photos, among other memorabilia, are still treasured by the villagers to this day.

In 2007, several tribesmen met the duke in person. Flown to the UK for the Channel 4 reality television series Meet the Natives, five tribal leaders had an off-screen meeting with the duke at Windsor Castle where they presented gifts and asked when he would return to Tanna.

His reply, as reported by the tribesmen later, was cryptic - "when it turns warm, I will send a message" - but appeared to please them.

Though Prince Philip was known for his frankness and has been criticised in the past for being culturally insensitive, on Tanna "he is seen as very supportive and sensitive", says Mr Huffman.

His connection with the tribes has continued through Prince Charles, who visited Vanuatu in 2018 and drank the same kava his father did decades ago. He also received a walking stick on behalf of the duke from a Yaohnanen tribesman.

‘His spirit lives on’: Vanuatu’s Tanna Island mourns Prince Philip as if it were his | Prince philip

Days after news of Prince Philip’s death resounded around the world, a young woman and her mother selling snacks at a market on the Vanuatu island of Tanna heard it for the first time.

Sophie, who declined to provide a last name, visibly flinched when the information was recorded. She quickly regained the reserved demeanor so common on the island, but the news clearly moved her deeply.

This simple pronouncement was repeated over and over again throughout the weekend throughout the island. But it was said most eloquently by Albi, the chief chief of Yakel village. “Lamopo, lamopo,” he said. So sorry.

Albi received a framed copy of the portrait of the Duke of Edinburgh published by Buckingham Palace. He held it in his hands for several minutes, motionless. Nobody spoke.

But his message to the queen is not to despair. Your husband’s spirit will live on.

The death of Prince Philip has had a profound effect on the island of Tanna in the small South Pacific nation of Vanuatu.

It is a popular misconception that the Kastom tribes of Tanna worship Prince Philip as a deity. They do not do it. They worship him as one of their own. According to local belief, he was a man who was born in Tanna and a great spirit inhabited his body.

According to tradition, Philip left Tanna before World War II to seek his fortune. He traveled to the UK where he met, wooed and married the most powerful woman in the world.

Tanna kastom, they argue, came to reside in the very heart of the British Empire. A quest by this tribe to reconnect with Philip was documented on Channel 4’s Meet the Natives, which saw a delegation of Tannese men travel to the UK to carry out what the show’s creator called reverse anthropology. In the final episode, they had a private meeting with Prince Philip.

Chief Lalu, from West Tanna, said: “Prince Philip was a man who connected Tanna to London. Our parents and our grandparents told us this. “

Prince Charles is considered Man Tanna, as they say. “Prince Philip’s family is Tanna’s family,” he said.

Willie Lop is the highest ranking chief on the island. He is equally unequivocal: “I want to tell the world that Prince Philip came from Tanna.”

“I want to send the English nation a message of solidarity from the island of Tanna. We send this message to the government and people of England. We send our deepest condolences on the loss of Prince Philip ”.

Just a few kilometers from a newly built road, the people of the town of Yakel avoid all modernity and live as they have for thousands of years.

A short stroll down the dusty and bumpy roads is Yaohnanen, considered the birthplace of the Prince Philip movement. There, Overlord Jack Malia was more pragmatic about the loss of his spiritual leader.

“When the prince died,” he said, “it did not weigh us down much, because the spirit that lived in him was with us here in the nakamal. “He was referring to the town’s meeting place, a wide sandy expanse sheltered under the branches of an ancient banyan tree.

“He was here with us,” he said.

The duel in Vanuatu lasts 100 days. The entire island will observe the rite, but Yaohnanen, the birthplace of the duke according to its inhabitants, remains the center of attention. The heads of the surrounding villages are already meeting, conducting delicate negotiations to answer a question that lies at the center of their living and still mutable religion: Who will succeed Philip?

Malia says that Prince Charles was anointed for the role during his visit to Vanuatu in 2018. Most people agree with him. But in Yakel, Albi is less sure. Prince Philip’s spirit is still alive, he says, but it will be a while before we know who he will choose to reside with.

Every night, the men of Prince Philip’s tribes will gather to drink kava, a ceremonial drink with a slightly intoxicating effect, to listen to the wisdom it brings and to remember the man who, according to them, left his island to stand on the right of the island. Queen.

Obituary: Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh

Britain's Prince Philip and Queen Elizabeth II watch the proceedings from the royal barge during the Diamond Jubilee Pageant on the River Thames in London on June 3, 2012. JOHN STILLWELL/AP

His death at 99 ends a remarkable public life and enduring private marriage to the queen

The death of Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, at Windsor Castle at the age of 99, has been announced by Buckingham Palace.

It brings the curtain down on a remarkable public life, an enduring private marriage, and an era of huge transformation in British social and national history.

Prince Philip married his third cousin, the future Queen Elizabeth II, at Westminster Abbey in 1947, and he went on to become the longest-serving consort of any monarch in British history, accompanying his wife on her royal duties around the country and the world, including 1986's historic first trip to China, while always, as protocol dictated, walking just behind her.

He also had a busy life of his own, championing many causes and charities, including setting up the hugely successful Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme, aimed at encouraging schoolchildren to take part in extracurricular, character-building activities, such as charity work and outdoor pursuits.

When he retired from public life in August 2017, the records showed that in addition to accompanying the queen, the prince had attended 22,219 public events on his own.

Born in 1921 on the Greek island of Corfu, Philip, prince of Greece and Denmark, and sixth in line to the throne of Greece, had an unstable childhood. He had four older sisters, the youngest being seven years his senior, so he grew up as effectively an only child.

His father was largely absent on military duty and, later, in political exile, and his mother, who suffered severe hearing loss, experienced mental health issues that resulted in her spending time at a sanitorium, so the young Philip was often cared for by British relatives, a move that was to prove life-changing.

After leaving school in the United Kingdom, Philip attended the Royal Naval College in Dartmouth, and when the royal family paid a visit in 1939, he was given the task of escorting the 13-year-old Princess Elizabeth and her sister Margaret. It was the start of a life-long romance.

Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, wearing the uniform of the Honorary Colonel-in-Chief of the Royal Canadian Regiment, pose for a portrait at Buckingham Palace in London, Britain in 1959. LIBRARY AND ARCHIVES CANADA/NATIONAL FILM BOARD OF CANADA FONDS/REUTERS

When war broke out, Philip, who graduated from Dartmouth as the top cadet, joined the Royal Navy and over the next six years saw active service during which time he was mentioned in dispatches for his conduct during the Battle of Cape Matapan in March 1941.

Philip, who was on the opposite side in the conflict to his German brothers-in-law, was in Tokyo Bay in 1945 when Japanese forces surrendered.

Throughout the war, he remained in contact with Princess Elizabeth and, in 1946, he wrote to her mother, saying: "To have fallen in love completely and unreservedly makes all one's personal troubles and even the world's seem small and petty."

Soon after, he asked King George VI for his daughter's hand in marriage, but before the pair were wed at Westminster Abbey on Nov 20 the following year, he had to renounce his Greek title and become a British subject, before being granted the title Duke of Edinburgh by the king on the day of the wedding.

His sisters, who had married members of the German Third Reich navy, were forbidden from attending the wedding, which in the era before mass television viewing was broadcast live to a radio audience of an estimated 200 million people. At last, he could put the upheaval of his past behind him finally, he had stability and a solid family of which he could be part.

In 1948, Philip, whose own father was largely absent in his childhood, became a father himself, when Charles was born, followed two years later by Anne. But a bigger life change happened in 1952 when the royals were on a trip to Kenya and the news came through that King George VI, Elizabeth's father, had died, aged 56.

It was Philip who broke the news to his wife. At 25, Princess Elizabeth became Queen Elizabeth II, and Philip too was faced with a new role, one that he would fulfill until his death-that of royal consort.

Two more children followed, in 1960 and 1964, Andrew and Edward, and Philip busied himself with his royal duties and with promoting the causes that were close to his heart. These included, in addition to the Duke of Edinburgh Award program established in the 1950s, the World Wild Fund for Nature, and the British Heart Foundation. He was also passionate about sailing and equestrian sports.

Given the fractured and turbulent family life he had experienced in his early years, it is notable that the marriages of three of his four children ended in divorce. The most high-profile of these was that of Charles and Diana, Princess of Wales. The duke admitted he and his oldest son were wildly different characters, and Charles hated his time spent away at the duke's old boarding school, Gordonstoun.

Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh at Broadlands Estate, home of the late Lord Louis Mountbatten-Prince Philip's uncle, in 2007. FIONA HANSON/PA/AP

Diana's death in 1997 rocked the entire institution of the royal family more than any event since the abdication of King Edward VIII in 1936, with widespread public criticism of the royals' reaction.

But Philip was a conscientious grandfather, providing the young princes, William and Harry, with an opportunity to mourn the death of their mother in private, before they were thrust into the spotlight in the most unforgiving way at her funeral.

Away from formal duties, there were other slightly less serious parts of his life that played a major role in shaping the public perception of the duke.

One was the bizarre but true story of him being regarded as a living god by an island tribe living in the South Pacific territory of Vanuatu, where the Yaohnanen people worshipped Philip as a descendant of their spirit ancestors.

When he heard of the Prince Philip Movement, he sent its devotees a signed photo-and in return received a traditional pig-killing club.

His habit of making what could best be described as undiplomatic and politically incorrect comments, often on overseas trips, became the source of many long-running talking points back in Britain.

But whatever ill-advised remarks he may have made, he never let down the woman he loved and to whom he devoted so many years of his life.

The queen continues to be the longest-serving British monarch ever, and the duke was the longest-serving consort. Despite the demands of living their lives so firmly in the public eye, and having the highs and very public lows of their family life scrutinized so closely by the whole world, when it came to his most important role, the duke was never found wanting, and always did his duty.

A son continuing his father's mission

The Duke's death has now inevitably opened up the tricky question of who will take his place in the tribes' spiritual pantheon.

Discussions are already under way, and it may take some time before they decide on his successor.

But for observers familiar with Vanuatu, where tribal custom usually dictates that the title of chief is inherited by male descendants, the answer is obvious. "They might say, he has left it to Charles to continue his mission," says Mr Huffman.

Even if Prince Charles becomes the latest incarnation of their deity, Prince Philip will not be forgotten any time soon. Mr Huffman says the movement are likely to keep its name, and one tribesman has told him they are even considering starting a political party.

But more importantly, "there has always been the idea that Prince Philip would return some day, either in person or in spiritual form," says Mr Huffman, who adds that some may think his death will finally trigger this eventuality.

And so, while the Duke of Edinburgh lies in rest in Windsor Castle, there is the belief that his soul is making its final journey across the waves of the Pacific Ocean to its spiritual home, the island of Tanna - to reside with those who have loved and revered him from afar all these years.