Happy Landing on Pentecost Island

lndvngYou may wonder how a South Pacific island could be called Pentecost, but its name merely reflects the name on which European adventurers first sighted the island.

The local name was Vanu Aroaroa, but the name Pentecost has stuck and it is one of the 83 islands which make up the Pacific nation of Vanuatu.

Pentecost is quite large, 60 kilometres from south to north, and it is 190 kilometres north of Vanuatu’s capital Port Vila.  Although tourists do visit Pentecost, it is the least visited of the major islands in the Vanuatu archipelago and so facilities aren’t quite as sophisticated as you will find elsewhere in the nation.

However, if you go with the right attitude and do not expect contemporary first country services then you will have a perfectly enjoyable time.

Pentecost Island is, arguably, the place where bungy jumping was invented.  However, here the jumpers do not attach sophisticated, and relatively safe, rubber thongs to their ankles.  For generations, the land divers of Pentecost have ascended rickety bamboo towers, attached vines to their ankles, and leapt off their tiny platforms into the void, hoping that they don’t crack their skulls on the bare earth.

The land diving takes place between April and June each year, and it is a ritual for which all men are expected to participate at some time.

There are two purposes for the land diving.  One is for young men to accept their journey into manhood, and the other is to increase the yam harvest, as yams are part of the local staple diet.

The reason they leap during the period from April to June is because the vines have dried out and are unlikely to stretch.  During a performance for Queen Elizabeth II in 1974 one of the jumpers died because they performed too early in the season, when the vine was still green and it was still supple enough to stretch enough to make it unsafe.

The local language on Pentecost is Bilama, which is a Pidgin English, so visitors to the island would be advised to pick up a phrase book in Port Vila.

Most people who visit Pentecost do so as part of a day trip from Port Vila, but if you opt to stay there you will discover a lifestyle that is relatively primitive, very basic, but ultimately an experience that is very rewarding as you will be welcomed by the local people and will be able to participate in their day to day activities, leaving you with an authentic impression of a little known place in the world.

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