Though now a disputed term among anthropologists, ‘cargo cult’ has been one of the most prominent labels used in discussions of millenarianism in critical scholarship, popular culture, and the press. The term gained traction after the Second World War and has been used to describe a form of millenarianism emerging from colonial contexts among villagers in the Melanesian islands, Southwest Pacific, which has involved hopes for receiving external material commodities or ‘cargo’. A helpful overview of the critical and historical issues surrounding the label and definition of ‘cargo cult’ is provided by Lamont Lindstrom.
‘Cargo cults’ have re-emerged in the media over this past month following the death of Prince Philip. The story of Philip venerated as a spirit and understood a messianic figure of a prophecy among the villagers of Yakel and Yaohnanen on the island of Tanna, Vanuatu, has long intrigued the press.
The press are now interested in what happens next for the so-called Prince Philip Movement, including extensive reporting and filming by the Telegraph (see also, e.g., BBC, Mail, and Guardian). This has involved an interest in the period of mourning and the associated rituals, and responses from Kirk Huffman, a key figure in the ethnographic presentation of the Prince Philip Movement:
I imagine there will be some ritual wailing, some special dances. There will be a focus on the men drinking kava – it is the key to opening the door to the intangible world. On Tanna it is not drunk as a means of getting drunk. It connects the material world with the non-material world” (Kirk Huffman, reported here in the Telegraph)
The press has reported on possible interpretations of what will now happen to Philip’s spiritual form, as well as speculating on the possibility of the deification of Prince Charles who was made an honorary chief in 2018:
A coconut shell used by Charles took on significance, Huffman claimed:
[A tribal leader] told me he would build a shrine to it, almost as if it was a holy grail…So a connection was made between Tanna and Charles. I suspect the beliefs of the islanders will continue with Prince Charles. (Kirk Huffman, reported here in the Telegraph)
The BBC also reported that Huffman said that the movement will retain Philip’s name and possibly form a political party.
5News and Sky News also have reports on the Prince Philip Movement following Philip's death.