Right Time, Right Place, Right Now

Pentecost Island

Jun 5, 2001
Outside Magazine

Eel-shaped Pentecost Island, so undeveloped that there are few places to stay other than traditional leaf houses in small villages, is proof that there were crazy people in the world long before 1988, when a New Zealand company opened the first commercial bungee-jumping operation. Land diving is so rooted in local culture, in fact, that the Vanuatu government is allegedly trying to obtain compensation from international operators for "theft of the custom of Pentecost." Though now strictly a male undertaking, done to ensure a successful yam crop, legend has it that the first jumper was a woman escaping an abusive husband who chased her up a banyan tree.

The jumps take place on Saturdays in April and May. Nowadays, many are put on just for tourists. But the most authentic—ritual jumps in which 30 divers a day leap from the highest towers—are held only once each month, in the village of Bunlap. Presumably the divers here have donned Western-style pants only once&3151;for the 1974 visit of Queen Elizabeth II.

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