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Vanuatu tribes hold ceremony to remember their 'god'

Villagers in Vanuatu are also mourning the death of Prince Philip who passed away at Windsor Castle last Friday aged 99.

A tribe in the remote island nation of Vanuatu who saw Prince Philip as a god will greet his death with ritual wailing and ceremonial dancing, an expert said. Source: rnz.co.nz

For decades, two villages on Tanna Island have reportedly revered the Duke of Edinburgh as a god-like spiritual figure.

On Monday, the villagers gathered in a ceremony to remember Prince Philip.

According to Reuters, tribal leader Chief Yapa told the gathering that the connection between the people of Tanna and the English is very strong.

Yapa said they were sending condolence messages to the Royal Family and the people of England.

Anthropologist Kirk Huffman, who had studied the tribes since the 1970s, said for the next few weeks, villagers would meet to conduct rites for the Duke, who was seen as a "recycled descendant of a very powerful spirit or god that lives on one of their mountains".

They would likely conduct ritualistic dance, hold a procession, and display memorabilia of Prince Philip, while the men will drink kava, a ceremonial drink made from the roots of the kava plant, Huffman wrote.

The rituals will culminate with a "significant gathering" as a final act of mourning, he said.

Vanuatu-based journalist Dan McGarry said there would be a great deal of wealth on display including yams, kava plants and pigs because they are a primary source of protein.

McGarry reported that he expected numerous pigs to be killed for the ceremony.

Monday's tribal gathering also saw hundreds of people gather under giant banyan trees, said McGarry who is on Tanna.

There were speeches remembering Prince Philip, but also discussion about a possible successor. At sunset the men drank kava.

Fijian leaders pay tribute on social media

Fiji's Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama has joined world leaders in paying tribute to the Duke of Edinburgh.

On his social media account, Bainimarama shared a heartfelt tribute to Prince Philip.

He said he would never forget the stories his parents told him of Prince Philip's first visit to Fiji in 1953 and his warm embrace of the Fijian islands in the years that followed.

Fijians join the world in waving His Royal Highness one final good-bye, he wrote. "Our thoughts and prayers are with the members of the Royal family."

Former prime minister Sitiveni Rabuka described the Duke of Edinburgh as a great man.

Rabuka said Prince Philip was a great man in his own right even if he hadn't married the Queen, "he would still have been a great man."

He has always been very gracious and he has always been what the Queen needed and the pinnacle of her reign, the former SODELPA leader said.

Fiji Labour Party leader and former prime minister Mahendra Chaudhry said Prince Philip had served as an exemplary royal consort, quietly supporting the Queen in her many duties.

Chaudhry said the Duke was a notable sportsman in his own right, was well known for his quick and sharp wit and a forthright manner of speaking.

National Federation Party leader Professor Biman Prasad said Prince Philip was regarded with the same respect and admiration as Queen Elizabeth II by the people of Fiji.

Despite Fiji severing its links with the Crown and the Queen as the nation's Head of State when the country became a republic in October 1987, the people of Fiji still revered the monarchy, Prasad said.

Unity Fiji Party leader Savenaca Narube said he was always impressed by how Prince Philip understood and executed his roles perfectly as the Queen's husband.

"I believe that he was a role model for husbands around the world," Narube said.

"The world has lost a great statesman and leader in the passing away of Prince Philip."

Speaker recalls meeting Duke of Edinburgh

Fiji Speaker Ratu Epeli Nailatikau said he was honoured to have served as Equerry for the Queen and the late Duke of Edinburgh when the couple visited Fiji in 1977.

Ratu Epeli, a high chief from Bau, said he was a major then in the army and his commander, the late Colonel Paul Manueli, had ordered him to fly to Tonga to await the Queen and Prince Philip's arrival from Samoa as part of her Silver Jubilee Pacific Tour in February 1977.

He told the Fiji Times he remembered feeling very honoured and proud but anxious to be given such a "momentous task".

Ratu Epeli said he first met Prince Philip at Tonga's Queen Salote International Wharf in Nuku'alofa when the couple arrived for a one-day tour of the Pacific Island kingdom before sailing for Fiji aboard the royal yacht Britannia.

"When we arrived in Fiji, the reception was unbelievable and the experience is one I will never forget as people lined up to get a glimpse of the Queen and Prince Philip.

"I know a lot of people questioned how I ended up onboard the Britannia when Her Majesty the Queen and Prince Philip disembarked the vessel at the King's Wharf in Suva, but it was the order given to me by my then Commander and I was just following orders."

The late Prince Philip and Queen Elizabeth's visit in 1977 included a tour around Suva and Labasa, and among the events of particular significance was the Queen's unveiling of the statue of Fijian high chief and statesman the late Ratu Sir Lala Sukuna in Suva.

RNZ Pacific understands that a private message to Queen Elizabeth from the Vanuatu tribes has been handed to journalists on Tanna Island, who are expected to convey it to the British officials.

In a statement, Buckingham Palace announced a formal period of mourning is now under way.

Prince Philip's funeral will be held on Saturday at Windsor Castle.

He is survived by the Queen and their children Prince Charles, Princess Anne, Prince Andrew and Prince Edward.

Prince Philip had eight grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren.

rnz.co.nz