Remote Vanuatu Villagers Seek Eternal Life From U.K.’s Prince Philip

In Britain, he is known as a cantankerous ex-navy officer and for being the queen’s husband, but in remote villages in the tropical Pacific archipelago of Vanuatu, Prince Philip is much more.

Several hundred scattered residents on Tanna island pray to the British royal, who they regard as a deity and who celebrates his 94th birthday Wednesday.

"Here in Tanna, we believe that Prince Philip is the son of our God, our ancestral God who lives up in the mountain," says villager Nako Nikien, who prefers to go by the name Jimmy Joseph.

In this May 31, 2015 photo, Albi Nagia poses with photographs of Prince Philip in Yakel, Tanna island, Vanuatu. Nick Perry / AP

Joseph said it's become a tradition to talk, or pray, to Philip each evening, when villagers from Yaohnanen and Yakel gather in their meeting places and share an intoxicating brew made from kava plants.

"We ask him to increase the production of our crops in the garden, or to give us the sun, or rain," Joseph says, pausing. "And it happens."

Those prayers became more pressing after Cyclone Pam ripped through Tanna in March, killing at least five on the island of 30,000 and destroying homes and crops.

The unusual cult developed on an island where people still choose to live as they have for centuries, in simple thatch huts and wearing nothing but grass skirts or a penis shield called a nambas.

Image: Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip on June 6, 2015
Britain's Queen Elizabeth II and her husband Prince Philip in the stands at Epsom Racecourse on June 6, 2015. Matthew Childs / Livepic / Reuters

Known as kastom, it's a traditional way of life that's under threat from the spread of Western civilization. Down a winding, rutted dirt track far from anywhere, people feel free to live this way, but when they make the trek to the island's main town to sell the coffee beans they grow or buy rice, they usually put on clothes.

Joseph says he believes that the spirit of Philip, who was born in Greece, comes from Tanna and that one day he will return. On that day, he says, the fish will leap from the sea and life will become eternal. He says he's not worried that Philip is aging and may soon die.

"The movement will always continue," he says. "And, from my opinion, or from what we believe, the spirit in Prince Philip won't die."