8-3 Nakhol

Before the jump

In the time before the grandparents of our grandparents, there was a woman. She was married but she was not happy. One day, when her husband tried to hit her, she ran away. He chased her. After many hours, she climbed a tree. He followed her up the tree saying, “You have no where else to run.” She jumped from the top of the tree. In his rage, he jumped after her, but in his rage, he didn’t see the vines tied to her ankles. As they neared the ground, the vines caught her and she lived. He plunged to his death.
Some people say that only men can dive for nakhol because they are remembering their brother’s death. Some say it is a promise to the women never to forget their trickery and never be fooled again. Some people claim it started with women diving but change because the whistling noise the women’s skirts made as the dove annoyed the chief. Maybe, it is that the tower is built like a woman, for the men to do impressive and dangerous stunts. The dive blesses the yam harvest and ensures a good year. These are some of the kastom stories around Nakhol, or Landdiving.

The tower has some feminine curves that
 function to keep it upright during a dive.

Nakhol is the forerunner of bungee jumping. Men tie vines to their ankles and leap head first from a tower. Unlike bungee jumping, the idea is to touch the ground.

It works soemthing like this: They build a giant tower. The tower cants backwards so that the forward pull of each jump doesn’t tip it. At various levels, platforms to jump from are installed. Each platform is built specially for that jumper. The vines are tied onto the platform and then the platform is inserted into the tower. When it is time to jump, the jumper climbs the tower and his friends or brothers tie his vines to his ankles. They take care to keep each vines untangled from either the tower or the other vine. The jumper readies himself and leaps with his hands folded across his chest. The jumper must dive head first and out away from the tower. The higher up, the further out he has to dive.

When he reaches the end of the vines, the platform snaps. It stays attached to the tower, it just breaks down, arresting his momentum. The next thing to arrest his momentum is the ground. They dig up the dirt so it is soft and squishy, and the diver has to hit it chest first. If not, he can break an arm or his neck. Last year, one man broke his arm. When Queen Elizabeth came to watch, a man broke his neck. It isn’t a safe hobby.

They jump out to get past the tower

Jason and I saw landdiving twice this year. Once by the airport and once in Pangi. The one by the airport was interesting. It was the usual Vanuatu blend of tourist and kastom. On the tourist side, we had to pay to get in and they’d set up seats at the bottom of the tower with stakes to mark out the paths. On the not-so-tourist side, no one explained what was going on, it started without warning and ended as abruptly. It was an edifying look at how tourism works here and where it could be improved.

On the other side of the tourism was the Pangi dive. They have four cruise boats a year that come and watch. Pangi is a village of 50, the cruise boat disgorges 2000 passengers onto Pentecost for a day. They use the phrase “kranki lo mone” which means “crazy for money.” It is true. There are limits to the good that the economic boost of tourism can do.

It was fun to see the dives. I think the people who do it are a bit nuts but I respect their guts. I am amazed that something so kastom can still exist and I hope that it is never destroyed. Kastom is what makes Vanuatu special.

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