A bold young man stands at the top of a 30 metre timber tower. He has vines tied to his two feet. He is only 10 years old and wears nothing but a band made of plants and a sheath around his waist. He’s about to jump.
- Watching the men plummet, only to be caught centimetres from the ground
- The entirely plant-based structures from which these men launch themselves
- The opportunity to explore Pentecost Island
- Cook’s Reef – keep an eye out for it when you fly out from Pentecost. It’s insane!
The Origin of Land Diving
This daring leap by the brave local men is vital to the successful harvest of the yam, which is the staple diet here.
This ‘land diving’ or ‘naghol’, as it’s known locally, is as ancient as it is spectacular, and is still practised annually on Pentecost Island, Vanuatu.
While there are many kastom stories and important cultural rites that are associated with land diving, one explaining how the jump initially started tells the tale of a woman who climbed to the top of a nearby banyan tree to escape her angry husband after quarrelling.
She secretly tied a vine around her ankle so that when her husband climbed up after her, she could launch herself out of the tree. Thus, this tradition was originally practised by women.
However, as women wear skirts, jumping off tall structures would leave them naked, so the activity is now practised by men as a rite of passage. While the women’s eerie tunes and dance at the base of the tower form an important part of the ceremony.
The Practice of Land Diving
It can be hard to grasp just how tall this structure is and how daring the jumpers are without seeing it happening before you.
To get a feel, try going to the eighth storey of an office building and stand very close to the window looking down. That’s how high these wooden structures in the jungle are.
They’re incredible feats of engineering that take five weeks to build, using only locally-sourced vines and stilts from the surrounding forest. Even the ropes tied to the brave men’s legs are simply vines – no elastic or man-made fibres are anywhere to be seen.
Divers tend to sleep below the structure the night before their jump to ward off any bad spirits lurking in the area. They also refrain from sex, as they believe this will harm the jump.
Interestingly, they also refrain from any form of good luck charms, believing that good luck charms are in fact, bad luck.
How did this come about? When Queen Elizabeth came to watch the naghol, a man died as he was jumping. He was wearing a good luck charm at the time, thus all good luck charms became evil and untrustworthy.
Comfortable shoes, water and a camera are all you need.
When To Go
Originally, this event only occurred annually during the beginning of the yam harvest season. However, you can now watch this incredible act every Saturday from April to June on Pentecost Island.
It is absolutely forbidden for any foreigners to participate in the diving.
How To Get There
Pentecost is around 200km from Port Vila and the best way to get there is by plane. From the airport the locals will lead you on a short walk or drive to the land diving site.
You can arrange this with your host on Pentecost Island or with the Vanuatu Tourism Office directly (phone +67822813).
Handy Tips And Tricks
There are a few different tour companies that offer day trips or short stay options to see the land diving and you can even add in a trip to another island on the same day or you can simply fly there with Air Vanuatu.
Vanuatu Eco Tours offers a small group, 3-day tour that takes a deep dive into the culture of Pentecost Island including, of course, the heart-stopping ritual of land diving.
Pentecost Island is a large island and with about 17,000 inhabitants, it’s highly populated for Vanuatu and is very rich in cultural traditions. So take some time to check out travel info about Pentecost island and see all the options open to you.
For example, you can check out where Captain Cook landed here in the 1700s, or visit a cultural village (known as a kastom village) where people live entirely without technology, western clothing or medicines, in rhythm with ancient Pacific lifestyles and beliefs.
Photos thanks to Vanuatu Tourism Office