Pacific Ocean

Vanuatu, the lucky discovery...Part wo

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We were very keen to see in the flesh a very spectacular, ancestral custom: the N’gol Land Diving. New Zealander Alan John Hackett didn’t quite invent bungee jumping in 1987. He simply adapted and modernized something that he had seen in Vanuatu, not far from his home island, and in particular on Pentecost Island

 

A few things which I learnt about the old custom of N’gol Land Diving… 

N’gol Land Diving is undoubtedly the most spectacular of the indigenous rituals on Vanuatu. This initiation rite may have been practiced on other islands of the former New Hebrides, but for the last few decades it has only really survived in the south of Pentecost Island. And more precisely, in three villages on the island’s south west coast, two of which are Anglophone and one Francophone. N’gol Land Diving is linked to the custom of the yam harvest. The yam is the islands’ most precious crop, and its fibers are used to make the rope. The diving happens for only two months a year, from mid-April until mid-June. It usually takes place just after the first yams have been harvested, we were informed, when we stopped over at Lamap (Port Sandwich) on the island of Malekula. The French-speaking village which might interest us was called St Joseph, and was situated in one of the most southerly bays on Pentecost’s west coast. We were there at the right time, and the crew of Jangada decided to find where the village was and to head there. We left Port Sandwich bay, and headed by the north of Ambrym Island with clouds spewing out of the powerful volcano, before anchoring a few hours later in Homo Bay just off southern Pentecost. However, once on land, we discovered that it was an English village, and that Saint Joseph was a further two hours’ walk, north along the coastal path. The next day we headed north, and I sent Timothée and Marin out in the dinghy to glean any information from any fishing pirogues or locals, often children, that they might come across. They guided me by VHF, and we finally anchored off the village of Saint Joseph in Wali Bay. The village is not visible from the coastline, as it is several hundred meters inland, alongside a charming little river. We were welcomed by Joachim, one of the sons of Alexander the village chief, who we went to greet. The chief, like many older people, speaks good French, and we are pleased to be able to stay near a village where just about everyone, children included, spoke our language. The villagers here are all Catholic. The village is clean and the animals are kept outside the village. The proximity of the river and the abundant fresh water are obviously a great help. We handed over some children’s clothes which the chief distributed, and some books for Horatio the teacher. In exchange we received grapefruits, passion fruits and avocados. Soon, everyone in the village knew our first names. In our anchorage, when we didn’t get on land early enough because of the kids’ lessons, the village children who were ...

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