Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Land Diving (Nagol) on the Island of Pentecost

It was a short, rough and windy sail across the channel to the island of Pentecost.  We planned our arrival to be there in time to see the last of the land diving ceremonies for this year.  Upon arriving we met Bill and Sue on a boat called Lady Nada, they gave us what information they had about the event and we all planned to meet the next morning on the beach.  We dinghied ashore with “Evergreen” and met Luc Fargo, who was in charge of the event, and his daughter Ellen.  Ellen graciously walked with us along the single road on the island pointing out the land diving tower and sharing lots of interesting facts about life there.  We learned that Pentecost was one of the wettest islands in the chain.  This was evidenced by the beautiful rivers with clean, clear water that crossed the road in many places.  One of the most interesting things we saw was a hot spring, so hot, that you couldn’t even put a finger in it without losing it.  Yikes!  The locals use it to clean and cook the pigs and chickens they kill and to boil eggs.  We ended up walking and talking for several miles before returning to our boats for the evening.  The next morning we were all eager for the ceremonies to begin.  We had all seen land diving, or as the locals refer to it Nagol, on television documentaries but to get to see it first hand was exciting and surreal.  Reaching the beach in our dinghies, we were greeted by Luc who led us into the ceremonial hut where we were initially seated until a group of locals came in a presented us with leis.  We were then given refreshments before continuing on to the jump site.

For centuries residents of this island used the ceremony of land diving to commemorate  a young man’s rite of passage and in the belief that it would insure a productive season’s yam harvest.  Months are spent erecting wooden towers from trees cut in the nearby forest and lashed together with vines.  Brave young men climb the tower and cling to small perches while an assistant carefully lashes long vines to one of their ankles.  After what appeared to be praying and gesturing to a higher power accompanied by chanting and dancing from costumed villagers, the men leap from the tower and are hopefully saved from certain death by the strength of the vine and the trajectory of their dives.  If done correctly, their head, chest and forearms just graze the sandy surface of the land below the tower. We watched with fascination as seven men jumped from varying heights.  We took photos and video as fast as we could in hopes of capturing the amazing spectacle.  Afterward, while acknowledging that this ritual has become a bit of a show for tourists, we all felt that it had been in incredibly special thing to see and a glimpse into the once primitive culture of these islanders.

Before sailing away from the island of Pentecost we traveled to another anchorage where we were pleased to find a large school and a complement of friendly students.  Once ashore for a visit we were surrounded by bright-eyed young girls eager to walk with us, tell us their stories and practice their English.  Chance, the village chief, spoke with us at length and gave us a tour of the area.  We were also pleased to find a pretty reef nearby where we did a scuba dive and several snorkeling trips.  The high point of one of our snorkels was finding an especially friendly octopus that seemed happy to interact with us and allow dozens of up close and personal photos to be taken.  He was so friendly in fact that we all took turns mugging for the camera with our face masks just inches away from him.

With the familiar and lovely Asanvari Bay on the island of Maewo beckoning, we soon headed north in search of yet another adventure.

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