Religion can take on many forms. Some people worship an unseen father-figure, some worship multiple gods with wonderful forms like an anthropomorphized elephant, and some, on Tanna Island in the South Pacific, worship Prince Philip.

Now the man whose claim to fame is both getting Queen Elizabeth to believe that "Cabbage" is a term of endearment, and making comments that would make your racist senile great-grandfather say, 'that's going too far,' is an odd choice for a god.

Advertisement

Forced to choose amongst the living, there are scientist, world leaders, 1980s Madonna, all perfectly suited for worship. And yet these remote islanders chose the guy standing behind Queen Elizabeth in all the pictures.

To understand why, you first have to know about something called a cargo cult. Cargo cults sprung up on remote islands where natives had no contact with the outside world until wars and other cataclysmic events caused the technologically advanced to descend on their islands in droves, bringing with them the most wondrous of wonders-cargo.

Particularly during WWII, but also at some earlier points, natives of islands along the South Pacific suddenly saw strangers amongst them, and those strangers were able to get flying contraptions to bring them incredible things- canned food, medicine, tents, cars, refrigerators-items no one could dream off, all collectively called cargo. The soldiers shared some of their goods, and the cargo cult was born.

Advertisement

The logic is flawless when you think of it. Strangers come from the sky and bring magical goods that they give to you. Thus, if you worship them, if you mimic their rituals, they will come back and bring more cargo to share. So the natives built wooden crosses they painted red, and created mock airstrips, just like the strangers made. And waited for them to return.

Most religions depend on some ancient event as their origin myth, recorded verbally or in a book, an event seemingly designed to have occurred so long ago that no one can ever confirm it. But with a cargo cult, all you need to do is ask the older generation, and they will tell you-the god, John Frum, he brought items no one had ever seen before, and shared them around.

It was a terrible time, with the rest of the world (read missionaries) impinging on the islander's lives, changes they could not imagine were occurring, and here was the friendly pale faced one, (or sometimes dark skinned one), John Frum, smiling with Coco Cola, candy and radios. As the natives put it:

John promised he'll bring planeloads and shiploads of cargo to us from America if we pray to him.

This is where Prince Philip comes in. One of the groups that believes in the cargo cult, a small tribe on Tanna Island, have an ancient prophecy that a pale spirit would come out of the mountain, manifest as a man and marry a powerful woman. With the advent of the cargo cult, the spirit in the legends became the brother of John Frum, the American GI in the white navy uniform, the cargo cult god who brings wealth to all.

When Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip happened to be visiting in the 1970s, the chief of the cargo cult tribe, then just a warrior, paddled out to see the royal yacht.

I saw him standing on the deck in his white uniform and I knew then that he was the true Messiah,' Chief Jack says. 'It is a memory I will always have of him to see him in the flesh like that, even though I know that deep inside he is more than flesh and bones.

And so Prince Philip worship was born. Over the years, the Prince has kindly sent the locals a few photos of himself, and now they wait and wait and wait for their god to return and bring heaven on earth.

We want him to spend the last years of his life here, because we believe that when he returns as our god, his powers will make our wrinkles disappear and we will have many wives to attend to our every need. He won't have to hunt for pigs or anything. He can just sit in the sun and have a nice time.