There’s a tribe in Vanuatu that worships Philip Mountbatten-Windsor, the Duke of Edinburgh. It’s what anthropologists call a cargo cult. The islanders’ ancient legends were folded into a vague understanding of royal protocol they saw during royal visits to the archipelago in the 1950s and 1970s, then still the New Hebrides. The local chief, who moonlit as the tribal cosmologist, decided Prince Philip was the promised messiah of the stories handed down from their ancestors.
Now I’ve been to Vanuatu and I’ve seen native villagers in straw skirts stomping rhythmically to a very large boombox. They looked keen to go back to their PlayStation after a morning’s work performing rain-dances for Australian cruise passengers so you never know of the Prince Philip religion is just another South Pacific tourist attraction.
The whole point of this is this ‘cargo cult’ business. A cargo cult is a belief system in a relatively undeveloped society in which adherents practice superstitious rituals hoping to bring modern goods supplied by a more technologically advanced society.
Now Nadur is rather far from an isolated community as yet hardly touched by civilisation. The second largest town in Gozo is celebrating winning the island’s football league and they put up this big poster on the way into town. In it they totemise Joseph Portelli who has presumably been essential for their victory not thanks to his football skills but with help covering expenses.
Now Joseph Portelli has been consuming chunks of Gozo like it belonged to him. He obtained a permit to convert a small ruin into a cliff-top villa with sprawling grounds.
And the list goes on and on.
He behaves in Gozo as if he owns the place. And in a way, he can’t be blamed. After all he puts a fraction of his money back into the Labour Party and that elevates him to a status above the law. You will recall the classic “what the fuck, Joe?” expletive by Joseph Muscat in an exchange of email debating the status of unimpeachable impunity enjoyed by Joseph Portelli.
But it takes his sponsorship of the triumphant Nadur Youngsters FC to have people dance in the street to a loud boombox shouting his name and begging for more.
Benevolent gods, worshipped for the shiny trinkets they bring in exchange for an island’s only wealth: its land and its beauty.