Joseph is seen as a crackpot by some, but he has a clear vision, and it is as vividly elucidated as any other I’ve encountered. I suspect he might be regarded differently if he’d remained on the island.
Not every interpretation of Philip’s Hero’s Journey is driven by faith alone. Take the friendly old chief who introduced himself to me as Jack Naiva.
I’m ashamed to say I believed him.
Jack Naiva, I learned too late, was the paramount chief of Yaohnanen village. He was the custodian of the village’s treasured photos, sent to them by Buckingham Palace.
He died in 2009, almost a decade before I met this… other Jack.
I later learned that he was representing himself as the Philip’s blood brother, and claimed to be on the cusp of delivering billions of dollars in wealth, just as soon as he and his bro Phil managed to clear a few hurdles.
I cut ties with the old so-and-so, but not before I’d inadvertently assisted him in his masquerade. I still flinch at my naïveté.
I have a sense that ‘Jack’ is not the only person deliberately constructing their own interpretations of the lore.
For some, the Philip narrative is a useful vehicle for fable.
I met a chief from Port Resolution in Lenakel last week. He was in town to greet the Prime Minister and other government officials, who had arrived at the same time we did.
Explaining how the pale-complected Prince Philip could come from Tanna, he told me a story about two boys who went swimming in the rough surf near his home. The action of the sand and water scraped their skin clean, and scrubbed one of them so hard that he lost all his colour.
“You,” he said with a pointed grin, “are my little brother. The black man is the big brother, and you are our little brother.”
Chief Willie Lop is the head of the Tanna Island Council of Chiefs. It’s a powerful post, and Chief Willie is a redoubtable man. He’s thoughtful, canny and very much a man of the world.
To him, the Prince Philip story is simple unadorned truth: Philip is from Tanna. As a young man, he rode his horse to the south of the island, leapt into the sea and was transported to England, where he met, wooed and won the princess, and spent his life at the right hand of the throne.
And honestly, when you put it like that, the biggest difference between his story and that of Arthur or Mohammed or Jason or Moses is… time.
Time. Their story happened once upon it. For the people of Tanna, it’s happening right now.
I spent a day last week watching the kastom chiefs of Yaohnanen and the surrounding villages beginning one of the most important tasks in recent history. They are plotting the course for their people for generations to come.
The lore is alive, twisting like a vine, tendrils waving speculatively in the breeze, looking for the trunk that will allow it to climb to the heavens. Will it be Charles? Will wiley old chief Albi of Yakel witness their tabu spirit passing to a grandson instead? Will the spirit leave England, as one chief warned, and return to Tanna?