Tradition and Adventures on Pentecost

I am still trying to wake up, it is 5am, when my taxi driver honk his horn outside my accommodation. We drive in darkness through the streets of Port Vila but when arriving at the domestic terminal I feel awake and ready for adventure. The terminal is full of passengers getting ready to fly or send care packages to families around the islands. As a frequent traveler on large Boing planes I was slightly worried boarding the small 19passenger Vanuatu Airline’s plane. Flying high over the islands of Vanuatu my worries disappears and the feeling of true freedom overcomes me. Looking through the window I see clear blue water, islands covered in greenery and volcanoes with bright red lava bubbling inside. I’m on my way to south Pentecost to witness something special. It’s Nagol (land-diving) season.

Arriving at the airport in Pentecost we are welcomed by friendly faces and curiosity. I jump in the back of a truck taking me through local gardens booming with pamplemousse, bananas and swaying coconut trees. “This is Vanuatu”, I think to myself. The truck pass local men and women carrying produce harvested from their gardens in big local baskets. After less than one hour in the back of the truck I arrive at the village hosting me for a week, Pangi. 

I drop my bag of at Chief Harry’s spare sleeping house and set off to explore. Walking distance from the village is a lovely area called Masing Rock. You will need to pay the land owners a small kastom fee for using their land but I can tell you it is well worth it. I walk along the beach and I see this rock formation sticking out of the water, on top there is an abundance of flora growing and in the water plenty of fish and coral to feast your eyes on. After my water exploring the family show me a marking on another rock formation. They call it Captain Cook’s Rock due to a marking left by his expedition around the Pacific. The marking points out the location of neighboring island Ambrym which is visible from south Pentecost. History is everywhere you look here. 

On my walkabout back to the village I meet Tabi. He and his family owns a small fish farm. He invites me to come visit and help him feed the fish. A short stroll from the main road in Pangi village you will find Tabi’s Fish Feeding. They farm fish to sell and eat but after growing so attached to the fish the family now are unable to eat them. I kneel down on a beautifully weaved mat and slowly dip my hand full off fish food into the pond. (“OMG! OMG! OMG! This feels so weird.”) More fish than I can count is trying to eat the food in my hand. The experience is fun and informative as Tabi talk about his property, fish farming and local crops. As Tabi walks around in the fish pond he whistles and the fish follow him around, they recognise the melody and know the whistle means food time. I left his property thinking that this experience suits so many age groups and is such good value. You will pay a small fee to access Tabi’s Fish Feeding.

I spend the evening talking to my host family and eating locally grown cooking bananas in freshly scratched coconut cream and fish caught earlier in the day. Going to bed early tired from the day’s adventures and with a stomach full of food I was ready for tomorrows highlight.

Reaching 30meters above ground the tower looks beautiful in the sunlight.
Excitement does not explain the intense feeling hovering around the Nagol site. I find myself on the bottom of the landing site in a traditional island dress, bare feet and camera ready to go. Preparations is taking a while; I was getting nervous (-“Why are you getting nervous, you’re not jumping off a 30 meter tower. Relax!”). The men and women singing and stomping their feet amp up the rhythm and the young man waves his hands to get some noise out of the audience. Suddenly the singing stops.
Everyone chants. Wup wup. Wup wup. Wup wup.

His palms are pressed together and he leans back looking to the heaven above. The camera captures a calm in his face, like there are no worries in the world and all he feels is the connection to the tower and the task ahead. The dive is graceful, fast and leaves me gasping for air. The young man gets help to stand up, shaking his head, vines cut off by large bush knives and the relief washes of his face.
(-“Why did he do that? I can’t believe he just did that? WOW! )
It is 2016; a man dressed in kastom wear has jumped head first off a 30meter tower. This is culture. This is adventure. This is one of the best things I’ve experience. For many reason I believe the young land diver feels the same.

Photos & text by Sofie Johansson.

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