Interested in quirky facts about the British Royal Family and rare historic stock photos? Here’s one amazing fact for Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh: he is worshipped as a god in the South Pacific.
Who thinks Prince Philip is a God?
The Divine Right of Kings to rule has long been over in most of the globe, but for the Kastom people around the Yaohnanen (also spelled Ionhanen) village on the southern island of Tanna in Vanuatu, Prince Philip, member of the British Royal Family, husband and Consort of Queen Elizabeth II, is venerated as a god. The worshippers were photographed in 1980 by renowned photographer Colin Jones.
The myth: according to ancient Yaohnanen tales, the son of a mountain spirit travelled over the seas to a distant land. There, he married a powerful woman and in time will return to them.
Why is Prince Philip a God?
When it comes to the Prince Philip Movement, the idea that Prince Philip is God seems to have arisen in the 1950s as a cargo cult of the tribe. The formation of a cargo cult is a logical way for a remote and highly developed tribe structure to handle the huge external pressures on them from foreign and overwhelming technology, weapons and ideologies and, during the 1940s, World War II. Followers of a cargo cult believe that the eventual return of the god will bring benefits (cargoes arriving by ship, for example) including social progress of peace and prosperity. Their treasure and the ‘one true cross’ is a signed photograph which Prince Phillip kindly provided. The tribe’s fervent wish is that Prince Philip will come and live with them and wives would be available to him should he wish to change his marital status.
The Duke of Edinburgh has been close to the island, but never visited the tribe that venerate him. Photographs have been exchanged, and until 2007 that was it. But in that year, five islanders were granted a private meeting with Prince Philip at Windsor Castle, part of a successful trip arranged by Channel 4. As Prince Philip is nearly 100 years old, the mantle looks to pass to his son, Prince Charles, who visited Vanuatu in 2018.
Who travelled 10,000 miles in 1980 ?
The photographer: in 1980, British social documentary photographer Colin Jones travelled the 10,000 miles from Britain to Vanuatu and photographed members of the tribe with their signed portrait of Prince Philip. The image made the front cover of The Observer magazine.
Colin Jones works primarily in black and white photography, beginning his career with the Royal Ballet and deciding to switch to being a professional photographer in 1963 whilst on tour with the ballet. His first decent camera, used for the majority of his work, was a Leica (bought second-hand in Johannesburg in 1961 for £25). In total, Colin Jones landed 30 front covers of the Observer magazine over the period when it was one of the best photographic news magazines in the world and much of his work helps define the visual landscape of the 1960s.
Though primarily known as a social documentary photographer, Colin Jones’ path crossed with British Royalty several times during his photography work, including Prince Philip, Princess Margaret and Lord Snowdon when they visited the Royal Ballet, and later in his career he photographed Queen Elizabeth II quite informally out in the countryside judging a 1984 pheasant shooting competition on the Sandringham Estate.
There are some amazing books about the islanders including most famously “Man Belong Mrs Queen: My Adventures with the Philip Worshippers” by British author Matthew Baylis.
Contact us to license images by famous photographer Colin Jones from the TopFoto archive, or to enquire about licensing any of Colin Jones’ work online or offline. You can also ask our expert research team to look for other topics for your publishing, film or TV video projects.