Tuesday, May 29, 2007

I Just Can't Wait to be (Deputy) King

Tanna, obscure island in Melanesia. Part of Vanuatu and famous for cannibalism, resistance to modernization, and John Frum cargo cults. And I have a tenuous connection to its royalty.

I know a guy (Forrest) whose dad knows a guy (Dr. Heinz Egli) who may or may not be king of Tanna. He's deputy king at the very least. On this island, there was a legend of a white man who would appear on a raft after an earthquake and a volcano eruption. Enter a man whose name I forget, who is clever enough to sit on a raft during an earthquake and wait for the volcano to erupt (as it does every few minutes). Sailing up to the island, he is hailed as King. Things are happy in Tanna for a while.

Now enter the British, who colonially own the island. They're afraid of an armed rebellion--as well they should be, with the one rifle on the island. A detachment of one hundred soldiers lands on the island to seize its rifle and flag, but the King will have none of it. He gives the British a day to withdraw and return the rifle and flag or he will declare war on them--and on the French for good measure. And after a day of noncompliance, the King of Tanna writes a letter to the Queen of England, the President of France, and the Secretary-General of the United Nations to declare war.

The war is ended in a day when British troops arrest the king and imprison him.

Now enter Dr. Heinz Egli, international activist and advocate for Tanna's traditional movement. He manages to get the King out of jail and help the natives a bit, and for this, he is rewarded the title of Viceroy. A bit of a snag here: he's Swiss, and like the Americans, the Swiss can't accept foreign titles. But a loophole presents itself: the Swiss government wouldn't object to a title that they didn't know the significance of, and English not being an official language of the country, Dr. Egli can accept the title of Deputy King.

Sadly, the King passed away a few years ago, and astonishingly, lines of succession aren't clear in Tanna. Should the Deputy King become King? The King's son? Should an entirely new legend be written to predict the next king? Until this matter is resolved, Dr. Egli is content to be Deputy King.

His duties? Go there once a year and help them to advance while still maintaining traditional customs. Oh, and have songs composed and pigs slaughtered in his honor. Sounds like a fine job to me.

Pictures of Dr. Egli's castle/current home can be found at the Photobucket page: http://s183.photobucket.com/albums/x157/Teravius/ Those interested are encouraged to check the page repeatedly, as new pictures should show up at least weekly for the whole summer.

Currently listening: "Piano Concerto in F," George Gershwin

1 comment:

Zach said...

Ok so I don't ever remember reading this post but that's freakin' awesome. I need to go and be King of Tanna.