Pentecost Island is most famous for being the spiritual birthplace of the extreme sport of bungee jumping, originating from an age-old ritual called the Naghol, or land diving. Every Saturday between April and June, men in the southern part of the island jump from tall towers (20 to 30 m high) with vines tied to their feet, in a ritual believed to ensure a good yam harvest and fertility. The vine diving ritual is also now used to show acceptance into manhood.
The Naghol Festival has its roots in legend. It is based on the story of a woman who ran away from her husband who used to beat her. To escape his violence, she hid in a tall tree. Her husband, Tamale begged her to say sorry and come down, but warned her he may beat her a little more for her disobedience.
She refused, so he climbed the tree after her and as he reached the top she jumped. In his rage Tamale jumped after her, only to realise that she had tied liana vines around her ankles. The woman survived while Tamale perished.
To this day, men jump from the towers as a show of strength to women in the village and as a statement that they cannot be tricked again.
When the vines stretch at the end of the dive, the head of the land divers curls under their shoulders and touches the earth, making it fertile for the following year’s yam crop.
Land diving was first given international exposure when David Attenborough and a BBC film crew brought back footage of the ritual during the 1950s.
WOULD YOU LIKE TO EXPERIENCE NAGHOL?
To see Naghol, you need to take an easy trek through the jungle, at the end of which you find yourself at the bungee site. The giant bungee tower at the centre of the small clearing is a crude tower with 5 bungee levels made of native wood held tightly together with homemade ropes of liana vines. It is erected on a slight slope and the ground in front of it is freshly tilled to help break the fall of the jumpers.
This is an experience that will leave you holding your breath as you watch each man take the daring death-defying plunge.
The jumps are followed by village celebrations with traditional music, dancing, and a feast of home-cooked food shared with the successful jumpers and the visitors.
If you like to experience cultural traditions, this is one not to be missed, but it is not for the faint-hearted!