Pacific island devotees of Prince Philip send their condolences

FILE PHOTO: Prince Philip devotees prepare kava roots to be drunk at an upcoming mourning ceremony to take place for the late British prince who passed away Friday at age 99, in Younanen village, Tanna island, Vanuatu April 10, 2021. REUTERS/Jean-Pascal Wahe

TANNA ISLAND, Vanuatu (Reuters) - The chief of an indigenous group in the South Pacific island of Vanuatu that venerated Prince Philip offered condolences to Britain's royal family on Sunday and recalled meeting the late prince during a visit to England.

"The connection between the people on the Island of Tanna and the English people is very strong," said Chief Yapa of Ikunala village, Tanna. "We are sending condolence messages to the royal family and the people of England."

The people of Ikunala plan to hold a special ceremony on Monday to remember Philip, the husband of Britain's Queen Elizabeth, following his death last Friday at the age of 99.

The veneration of Philip by people on Tanna Island, Vanuatu, stemmed from a local legend about the pale-skinned son of a local mountain god who ventured across the seas to look for a rich and powerful woman to marry.

In 2007, Yapa and four other men from Ikunala village on Tanna travelled to England to participate in a three-part British television documentary called "Meet the Natives" - the "natives" being the English.

The men visited Windsor Castle, a residence of the Queen near London, where they met Philip and took photos with him which they now cherish.

Kirk Huffman, an anthropologist and Honorary Curator of the National Museum at Vanuatu Cultural Centre, said that the men were honoured to be welcomed by the English and loved meeting them. "They were treated very well," Huffman said.

However, he said the islanders were amazed and saddened when they saw beggars and homeless people in England because none is homeless on their island.

Anthropologists believe Philip became linked to the legend in the 1960s when Vanuatu was an Anglo-French colony known as the New Hebrides.

Villagers at the time were likely to have seen portraits of Philip and Queen Elizabeth at government offices and police stations run by colonial officials before he visited the island with the Queen in 1974.

The villagers' special interest in Philip manifested itself in daily prayers for his blessing of their banana and yam crops and the posting of photos in village homes. One such photo was from 1980 and showed the prince, dressed in a suit, holding a club used to kill pigs that had been made by the islanders and sent to London.

Philip, who had a reputation for often being outspoken and with a propensity for occasional gaffes, maintained a respectful 50-year relationship with the group.

(Reporting by Jill Gralow, Writing by Masako Iijima, Editing by Susan Fenton )

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