Imagine taking a nose-dive from the top of a 75 foot bamboo tower, plummeting to the ground with nothing but vines attached to your feet. Hundreds of your fellow tribesmen stand patiently in awe and expectation, jeering at your demise. Well, that’s exactly what happens during the Naghol festival on Pentecost Island, Vanuatu.
Long before western civilization decided that scaring themselves shitless on gaint rubber bands was a great pastime, the people of Vanuatu had been doing their own version of what we call bungee jumping, for, oh, about 1,500 years. And it makes our so called ‘extreme’ version look like a day out in Disneyland.
Instead of strong rubber cords to absorb the force of the fall the Vanuatu tribes use intricately woven vines thethered to the jumpers legs and in place of a huge deep canyons to jump into, their impact is absorbed by a mere few layers of vines spread across the ground.
Giant wooden towers are built in the southern villages of Pentecost Island, their joints lashed together with natural vines. No nails, bolts, screws or other manmade building materials are used. The tower is flexibile yet completely anchored to the hillside with even more vines. Divers take a leap from a 25 meter (75 feet) high bamboo tower and crash towards the ground below while around 300 members of their tribe frenetically cheer them on.
The diving itself is an annual land-based tradition and is celebrated around the same time as the yam harvest. Traditionally, the goal of the Naghol divers is to bless the soil for the coming year by skimming the earth with the top of his head; the ritual is said to guarantee fertile soil for the farmers and a bountiful harvest. Today, the festival is also rite of passage for young boys who demonstrate their courage by hurling themselves off the towers. Of course, some do it to impress the chicks, like any society, and others do it just for the hell of it.
During the daredevil ceremony, as many as 20 divers have their ankles wrapped in traditional woven mats and tied with plaited vines and liana strands. The vines are meticulously measured to be the right size – too long and they will slam to the ground, too short and they will crash back into the bamboo tower. The height of each diver’s jump is dictated by his age and experience. The youngest members of the tribe start the ceremony and each successive jump means the next jump will be performed from an even higher platform.
Before the jump, it’s common for those that jump to settle disputes with family and friends, well, in case they die. But thankfully few do. However, there have been a few damaged spleens and other various injuries. And just in case they’ve struck a deal with lady luck, the divers must take off any lucky charms and refrain from having sex with a woman the day before he jumps, otherwise the dive could go drastically wrong.
The most experienced and flamboyant diver is chosen to close the ceremony; when he lands safely the crowd go wild and the festivities begin. The end of the Naghol is celebrated with enough cooked pig for all and dancing late into the night.
This is a guest post from Dave – the editor of Wacky Archives. For more wacky news, check out www.wackyarchives.com
We’ll even throw in a free album.