Standing under his sacred banyan tree, Albi Nagia sings as he cracks open a coconut with a few deft strikes from his bush machete. He chews the meat inside and spits it out in a shower, to the delight of the gathering chickens. He is praying ... to Prince Philip. Yes, that Prince Philip: the Duke of Edinburgh, Queen Elizabeth II's husband, who celebrates his 94th birthday tomorrow. In England, the former naval officer is known as a sports enthusiast who's a bit cantankerous at times and prone to saying the wrong thing. To several hundred people living in a handful of remote villages on Tanna island in the tropical Pacific archipelago of Vanuatu, he's much more. "We believe that Prince Philip is the son of our God, our ancestral God who lives up in the mountain," explains Nako Nikien, who prefers to go by the name Jimmy Joseph.
It's unclear how the movement began. It appears to have grown in the 1960s as an offshoot or rival to another unusual island movement, the John Frum cargo cult, whose followers believe the mysterious John Frum will one day return from afar and bring spiritual and material wealth. As for the Prince Philip movement, it got a boost when Philip and the queen visited Vanuatu in 1974 on the royal yacht Britannia, although the prince never set foot on Tanna island. Elders later sent Philip a club from Tanna, and he sent them back a photograph showing him holding it, which the elders took as a further sign that he was The One. 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." Click for more on the odd movement, whose predictions for the future involve fish someday leaping from the sea and life becoming eternal.