Dive Into Vanuatu

Courtesy of Tourism Vanuatu - Pentecost JumpIt’s almost that time of year, when the yams have reached a good consistency — sufficiently sturdy and moist — that the lianas should be strong and supple enough to support a man's weight. That’s when you know it’s time to Land Dive.

I know what you’re thinking… ‘Land what? A man’s weight supported by yam-tree vines?!’ It’s true! The Land Dive is a unique ritual of Pentecost Islanders. Visitors to Vanuatu can witness the origins of bungee jumping every Saturday between April and June on Pentecost Island.

Legend has it…
Although no one is certain of its origins, legend has it this unique practice was started by a young woman who found life with her husband, Tamalie, impossible. She ran away several times, but he always caught her. Well, one day when she was being chased, she climbed a banyan and called to her husband ‘I am going to leap to my death! Follow me if you dare. If our lives are saved, then we were destined to live together, and I will never leave you again.’ Tamalie, who didn’t want to be taken for a coward, accepted the challenge and joined her at the top of the tree. But while her husband was climbing the tree, the crafty young woman knotted two lianas around her ankles. They both jumped, but only she lived. Since then, Pentecost men have avenged Tamalie with the Land Dive.

A Marvel of Vegetal Architecture

Called ‘N‘gol’ in local dialects for ‘jump into the void,’ the Land Dive has daring men leap from a tower about 90 feet high. Their falls are broken by simple lianas. The Land Dive tower is a marvel of vegetal architecture. It’s made of hundreds of tree trunks and branches held together by approximately 10 miles of lianas. The builders first find a tree for the base for the tower. Next, a dozen trunks are implanted around this tree as vertical supports and even more trunks are attached above these. The upper part, not being attached to the central tree, is flexible and sways in the wind.

Each diver builds his own platform and chooses the lianas to bind him to the tower. With the supervision of a village elder, the lianas are carefully scrutinized for proper solidity and elasticity and cut to the correct length — too short and the diver will stay suspended and risk bounding toward the tower, too long and he’ll hit the ground.

Dive Practice
Starting at age two, boys jump from their fathers' shoulders. Boys who are a little older plunge from a high rock into the sea. Then at about five, they start taking part in the construction of a miniature tower, six or seven feet tall. By age eight, boys will begin to jump from the real tower when their courage will be measured in public.

The Yams
The yam is a staple food and involved in many ceremonies on Pentecost Island. The Land Dive marks the first yam harvest of the year and a successful land dive is said to help assure a good yam harvest for the following year.

Watch a video of land diving here: Vanuatu Land Diving Video courtesy of Vanuatu Tourism

For more information or to book your vacation on Pentecost Island, see the Vanuatu Travel Guide