Dangerous Diving On Land – The Naghol Festival In Vanuatu

Anitha Aravind April 30, 2014

I have always thought diving is a thrilling water sport, but the Naghol Festival that celebrates land diving proved me wrong. Land diving is a centuries old sport followed in the island nation of Vanuatu and this probably triggered the idea of bungee jumping which is relatively less scary or thrilling. And to think my idea of extreme adventure was bungee jumping from the top of a hill!

Land diving

Naghol or Nanggol, as it’s called in the local language, is the ceremony of diving from the top of a man-made tower to the ground, with the only protection being two rough vines that tie the participant’s ankle to the tower structure. This ritual was initially practised only once in April in the beginning of the harvest season, but now, after the festival started attracting tourists from all over the world, the land diving ceremony is held every Saturday in April and May and sometimes even in June. It’s important that the arrangements for the ritual should be initiated only after the rains stop; else the structure of the tower may get weak in wet ground. This is why April-May is the ideal time for the Nanghol ceremony.

How did it start?

It all started with a domestic fight! Yes, a woman fought with her husband and was fleeing from him. He chased her all the way up a banyan tree; from there, she had no other choice but to jump. But the clever woman had tied vines of the tree to her ankle and these protected her from a bad fall. Her husband, however, in his mad pursuit jumped without the vines and fell to his death. Since then, men of the village have been practising the dive to make sure they are not tricked again. Nowadays, this ritual is believed to be a proof of manliness and courage of its participants.

The tower

What happens?

Once the dry weather starts, a group of men gather to clear land, collect wood, till the soil and make other such arrangements to build the tower. This takes almost a month; sometimes more. Strong vines are selected and the tower is built with platforms at various levels for the jump. Every aspect of this preparation is done carefully, especially the selection of vines because this ritual is a matter of life and death.

Participants range from teenage boys who mark this as a passage to manhood to men who enjoy the thrill of the jump. There is a period of preparation for the jump when the men stay in seclusion and abstinence. The jump can be from different levels based on the experience of participants. A jump is considered satisfactory when a participant jumps such that his shoulders brush the ground; of course, he would have to fold in his head to achieve this and to avoid getting hurt.

People of this island believe that when this is achieved, they will definitely get a bounty of harvest and this ritual will cure all illnesses that had arisen due to the rains. In recent years, this ceremony has become popular without tourists so a special tourism council has been established that allows a limited number of tourists to witness the ceremony each year, though usually visitors are not allowed to take part in the rituals.

So if you want to see the earliest form of bungee jumping, book your tour in advance and watch men defy death in this daring old ritual.