Jumping straight into the ground with just vines tied around your feet? Let out your inner daredevil, at this strange yet exciting tribal festival!
If there was a limit to the limits men would go to prove their masculinity, the Naghol festival in Pentecost Island, Vanautu very easily throws it out the window. Or rather ties a bunch of vines to it and chucks it off a high man made platform, because if this annual festival is anything to go by, the men take their virility and Gods quite seriously.
You see, the Naghol festival set in one of the most remote islands of the Pacific is not something that you come across everyday. And by remote, we don’t mean just outside enough off of the fringes of civilization to supply you with a healthy detox of normal life. Not really. You will definitely not find Vanautu topping any lists as the ultimate vacations destination. The island is severely secluded with ‘deserted beaches, ancient culture, remote and rugged islands and world-class diving’. The only way to enjoy this place is to be ready for all the weird and wacky surprises and treats it has to offer. As Lonely Planet puts it, ‘where else can you hike up a crater to stare down into a magma-filled active volcano then ashboard back down, snorkel in a blue hole and drink Kava with the local village chief – all in the same day?’
So it is hardly any surprise that the ni-Van (as the people of this island are known as), have some very quirky ways to celebrate their lifestyles. A prime example would be the Naghol festival where men tie vines to their feet and jump off high platforms that they have spent months building, straight onto the ground.
The festival traces its origins back to a (probably fictional) story. A wife, in an attempt to escape her abusive husband, Tamalie, climbed upon a tree. The husband on finding out promised her that he would beat her only a little if she made her way down to him immediately, but if she made him make the effort of climbing the tree for her, she was done for. After she flat out refused his offer, Tamalie climbed the tree. On seeing this, the woman immediately hurled herself off the tree. What Tamalie failed to realise was that she had tied thick veins to her feet, avoiding any real injury. And for some reason, Tamalie is said to have jumped right after her, only without the veins. Following this, the men of the region perform this death teasing stunt to make sure they are not fooled as well.
Traditions and preparations
Weird as the reason might be, the festival represents the culture and tradition of the village. It is usually celebrated when the yam crop emerges, which is around early April every year. Every year the men put in great efforts to build the 20 to 30 meters high platforms which they use to jump from. During the period of the building, the men refrain from much socializing and completely abstain from sex or contact with women. Though the initial jump was made by Tamalie’s wife, a woman, the event is now pretty much testosterone fueled. Women are not even allowed to go near the tower while it is being built as it is considered bad luck and this might lead to the death of a diver.
The divers tie liana vines to their feet before making the jump. The jumps are considered extremely healthy and supposedly get rid of any illnesses and pains the man might be suffering from. Before jumping, the men loudly proclaim any regrets or mistakes they have, in case they die after making the jump. These proclamations very obviously contain a lot of boasting and it has become somewhat of a tradition for each man to try and outdo the other by presenting the best of himself. All through this, the villagers fervently and loudly pray for the man’s life beneath the tower. The man’s vitals are immediately checked after the jump to confirm if he is living and they all mostly are. Astonishingly, not a lot of deaths have been recorded performing these stunts.
In 2006, a diver badly broke his spine while diving and later died in the hospital. But the only incident before that has was in 1974, when Queen Elizabeth II visited the festival to witness its awe-inspiring sights and a diver suffered a fatal fall when both his liana broke and he later died in the hospital.
The very rare welcome for outsiders
The locals are not very accepting of outsiders attempting to participate in this ritual. But the one man who successfully made the jump after being invited by the local chiefs himself was Kal Müller, a journalist. He stayed with the locals for seven months prior to the festival and went to great lengths to be accepted by them. His experience was shared with the world in the 1970 edition of National Geographic Magazine as Land Diving With The Pentecost Islanders.
The festival sure seems to be one of the most bizarre events and thus, it attracts a healthy stream of tourists. But in an attempt to protect the culture and traditions of the place, a Tourism Council formed by local chiefs oversees the tourists who flock to the islands. Though it was previously just a one day event, the land diving is now held almost every weekend from April to June because of its profitability. The tourists are charged a substantial sum to be allowed to witness the land diving.