But such faux pas are unknown to the villagers of Tanna, who have very little concept of the outside world. Their lives could hardly be further removed from the opulence enjoyed by the prince and "Misis Kwin," the pidgin name for the queen. The village – situated on an 80-island archipelago – lies at the end of a muddy track barely navigable by four-wheel-drive vehicles. Few Tannese have ever left the island, and villages have no electricity, no running water, and no school. There are no newspapers, radios, or TVs, and life has changed little since Tanna was first encountered by Capt. James Cook in 1774. Children – picaninis in pidgin English – run around naked or in ragged clothes, and men wear either dirty shorts or nambas, grass penis sheaths. They hunt wild pigs and fruit bats with bows and arrows.
The prince's status among islanders received a boost in 1971 when, resplendent in a white naval uniform, he steamed into the New Hebrides capital, Port Vila, with the queen. Chief Jack traveled 150 miles by sea especially for the event.
The Prince Philip cult is just one of several "cargo cults" that began emerging in the south Pacific with the first Western colonization in the 1800s. As strange as they may seem, cargo cults were a highly complex reaction by bewildered islanders to the influence of Western modernity.
"Movements like these were a way for traditional people to come to terms with colonialism and Christianity," says Kirk Huffman, a British anthropologist who lived in Vanuatu for 17 years. "Vanuatu's culture would have been entirely squashed if it wasn't for cults like [these]."
Often they put their faith in a Christ-like messiah who would chase away colonial overlords and bring wealth, or "cargo." Such beliefs were reinforced by the arrival of US forces in the South Pacific during World War II. The avalanche of materiel – battleships, bulldozers, medicines, and ration packs – astonished islanders. They were also impressed by black American soldiers who descended with apparently unlimited candy and Coca-Cola.