Pentecost Island and the First Bungee Jumping Ritual

Bungee jumping (bungy jumping) has become one of the most popular extreme sports in modern society. Some people would know that commercial bungee jumping started in Queenstown, New Zealand. A man named AJ Hackett put a lot of faith in elastic cords and introduced this crazy stunt  to the public at the Karawau Bridge. The rest they say is history. However, bungee jumping’s history did not start with Mr. Hackett. In fact, this adventurous man got his ingenious idea from watching the Naghol (Ngol) or land diving ceremony, practiced on the Pentecost Island of the South Pacific republic of Vanuatu.

A view of the Land Diving Tower at Pentecost Island

A view of the Land Diving Tower at Pentecost Island

A Spiritual Ceremony

Unlike modern-day bungee jumping, land diving on Pentecost Island is not conducted for the mere thrill and fun. It is actually a spiritual ceremony passed down from one generation to another. Even when most of the world is moving towards more modernization, Pentecost remains to be one those places that has maintained its traditional beliefs and rituals.

A crowd gathering around the Land Diving Tower

A crowd gathering around the Land Diving Tower

The main Land Diving Tower, Pentecost Island

The main Land Diving Tower, Pentecost Island

Leap of Manhood

Naghol takes place every year between the months of April and June, typically on a Saturday.  The local men of the island come together to build tall towers made of wood and intertwined branches, bound tightly by vines. The makeshift towers have varying heights, usually measuring from 20 to 30 meters.

With vines tied around their ankles, each able man participating in the ceremony takes a courageous leap head first to the newly tilled ground. These brave men must submit themselves to the ritual as a true testament to their manhood and strength as well as to ensure a prosperous yam harvest. Ideally, the jumpers must make sure that their head slightly touches the earth as a sign of fertility for the yam crop.

One brave land diver at Pentecost Island, Vanuatu

One brave land diver at Pentecost Island, Vanuatu

The land diving site sits on a slope, and you need to do a short hike through a jungle to reach it. Despite knowing what’s going to happen, watching each man make that death-defying jump will still make your heart skip a beat. Indeed, being witness to the Naghol is an incredible experience.

A Tragic Royal Visit 

One famous Pentecost land diving story involves the visit of Queen Elizabeth II to the island in 1974. It is said that because of this visit, the ceremony had to be done earlier than the usual time to give the Queen the opportunity to watch.  Unfortunately, as “Her Majesty” watched, the vines snapped and some jumpers hit the ground hard. One land diver died after this fatal accident. This is the only fatality remembered in the ceremony’s history. Locals surmised that the snapped vines were too dry and less elastic because it was the wrong season to use them for land diving.

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Welcome Sign for Queen Elizabeth II Landing Site.

Welcome Sign for Queen Elizabeth II Landing Site.

Pentecost Island as a Tourist Destination

A land diver at the bottom of the tower

A land diver at the bottom of the tower

Because of the primitive methods used in the Pentecost land diving ceremony, and the sheer danger attached to it; many people from around the world visit the island to witness this distinct event. From Vanuatu’s capital Port Vila, tourists usually take a boat tour to Pentecost or fly to the island’s domestic airport (Lonorore). Some cruise ships, especially those coming out of Australia and New Zealand, regularly include the land diving ceremony in their annual itinerary.

A local performing group welcoming cruise ship passengers to Pentecost Island.

A local performing group welcoming cruise ship passengers to Pentecost Island.

Staying on the Island

If you plan to stay a couple of days on Pentecost Island, don’t expect to find luxurious hotels and tourist infrastructures. Traditional village huts are the primary accommodation options. There are very few roads and you won’t find a fancy meal anywhere. But if you are looking for an authentic island living and cultural experience, which is quite rare to find these days, Pentecost Island is one of the best destinations to go to.

If you are keen on staying there or on an island nearby I would suggest using a very large hotel booking site such as agoda.combooking.com or www.hotelscombined.com.  Either way they should offer the best selection for remote areas such as this.

By | 2017-09-28T06:27:00+00:00 October 2nd, 2013|0 Comments

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