Land Diving Film Crews Banned

The powerful Vanuatu Cultural Center in Port Vila has banned foreign film crews from photographing the annual land diving or "Nagol" ritual on Pentecost Island. Since olden times, land diving has been performed by the men of South Pentecost soon after the yam harvest to symbolically refertilize the soil.

Pentecost land divingWooden towers are constructed, and men with liana vines attached to their ankles dive from platforms 30 meters above the ground. The vines stretch to slow the fall, and the divers are rarely injured. New Zealander A.J. Hackett witnessed the spectacle in 1979 and introduced bungee jumping to the world.

Since Hackett's time, many others have cashed in on land diving. Every Saturday in April and May, the Port Vila tour companies run day tours to Pentecost at around Vt.40,000 (US$350) per head. Flights, transfers, lunch, and admission to the land diving are included. Personal use of a video camera is Vt.20,000 extra. Overnight trips are also possible.

Until this year, professional film crews were also allowed to record the spectacle for a fee of Vt.100,000 and up. But in the eyes of the Vanuatu Cultural Center, the filming has commercialized the Nagol festival and the money collected has gone into the wrong pockets. From a maximum of three dives a year, the ceremony has become a well scripted weekly event. So the filmmakers are now banned.

Of course, the package tours undermine the traditional significance of the land diving at least as much as the filming. The difference is, the political clout of Vanuatu's tour operators rivals that of the cultural purity police, so the tourist shows will go on as usual.

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