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Everyone is familiar with Bungy jumping, but this modern fad has roots deep in the jungles of Vanuatu, on the southern island of Pentecost, in an ages old ritual called the N’gol, or Pentecost Land Diving.
The ritual of the N’gol is an extraordinary event, filled with a dignity and mystique – and real risk to life and limb that bears no more resemblance to bungy jumping than abseiling down a sixty foot cliff does to catching a lift down a six story building.
It began centuries, perhaps millennia ago, when a beaten woman ran away from her husband, Tamale. He found her hiding in a tall tree and called to her that if she came down he might beat her – but only a little. However if he had to get her she would be sorry. She refused. He climbed the tree and as he made his final grab, she leaped. In anguish at her death (or anger that he had missed her) Tamale jumped after her, not realising his wife had tied liana vines around her ankles and survived the fall. Tamale perished.
The ritual evolved over the years, to stripping a tall tree of it’s surrounding branches and building a tower of sticks to support the trunk. Platforms of woven leaves and branches are built into the platform and the liana vines, filled with water and very elastic following the Wet season, are shredded at one end and tied to the tower at the other. Men and boys, some as young as seven years, climb the tower and leap from the platforms in a show of strength and a statement to women that they can never be tricked again….It is also a fertility rite, for as the vines stretch, the land diver’s heads curl under and their shoulders touch the ground, making it fertile for the following year’s yam crop. But the story of the N’gol does not portray the extraordinary feeling of power during this event. No picture can capture the feel of dozens of villagers dancing and stomping the earth during the entire ceremony. No words can express the awe of sitting beneath the tower and listening to the diver’s last words – for he knows they may be his last words if the vines break or are too long.
Today, only a limited number of people each year may witness this unique event.