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The Tradition and Attraction of The Nagol
Vanuatu is rich in culture and traditions far different from those of the western world. Traditions like kava drinking, not haggling in the marketplace and Rom dancing are found throughout the islands. However, one of the strangest and most interesting customs is found on the island of Pentecost. The Vanuatu Land Dive has long been a method of ensuring a fruitful yam harvest, as well as a rite of passage to manhood. Land diving is the precursor to modern bungee jumping, though even dedicated bungee jumpers may think twice about land diving.
What is land diving, or the Nagol, you ask? It is a tradition found in the southern half of Pentecost island. It is held between April and June of every year (weekends only for tourists). During this coming of age/crop fertility ritual, young men build tall towers of wood and climb them. Once at the top, they tie a vine around their ankles and leap from the tower, hurtling toward the earth at astonishing speed. The vine is supposed to stop their plunge, jerking them upwards just before they hit the ground. The custom has resulted in many deaths, especially if the ceremony is performed during the dry season, when the vines are at their least elastic.
Today, tourists and visitors can experience a land diving ceremony during their trip to the islands. Held only from April through the beginning of June and only on Saturdays, visitors can line up to watch the native islanders plunge precariously from their tower perches. Several tour packages exist, most originating in Port Vila. These combined transportation (usually via air) to Pentecost Island for the ceremony, tours around the surrounding jungle and transport back to the city after the ceremony.
Some overnight packages are available, as well. You'll stay in a guesthouse on Pentecost, and are allowed several activities around the area. Travelers should be aware that Pentecost island is relatively rural; you'll not find car rentals, restaurants or nightclubs. The pristine island offers a great look at traditional village life, though. In addition, visitors will find numerous marketplaces where they can purchase handicrafts and locally grown fruits and vegetables. The more adventurous visitors may choose to explore the surrounding jungle, or venture to the coast for swimming and fishing. The Nagol (land diving) ceremony is one of the best ways to get a look at tradition and custom in the islands, as well as providing the opportunity for additional exploration.
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