ANT 101: Introduction to Cultural Anthropology
Instructor: Ashi Das
Land diving is a ritual performed by the men of the southern part of Pentecost Island, Vanuatu. The precursor to bungee jumping, men jump off wooden towers around 20 to 30 meters high, with two tree vines wrapped around the ankles. Traditional bull jumping also well known as the Hamar or Hammer is a rite of passage for men coming of age. The man must jump over a line of 10 to 30 bulls four times completely nude without falling.
Land diving involves men jumping from a 20-30 meter platform with only the vines ties to their ankles to break their fall. Whereas bungee jumpers intentionally miss the ground by a long shot, land divers intentionally aim to brush their shoulders against the ground. This is intended to bless the ground and to bring a good yam harvest. The higher the drive platform, the bigger the harvest, “After the diver leaps off the tower, the vines stretch nearly to the ground and the diver ducks his head out of the way and lets his shoulders touch the land just barely to symbolically fertilize the earth”. The vines holding the tower together are the same type of vines used to ties to the driver’s ankles. It is very important that they pick the exact night season to build the tower and conduct the ceremony. “One end of each vine is tied to the ankle and the other to the tower. After the diver leaps off the tower, the vines stretch nearly to the ground and the diver ducks his head out of the way and lets his shoulders touch the land just barely to symbolically fertilize the earth for the next year’s yam crop”.
Once the jump has been completed by the boy he will be considered a man. The ancient tradition of Vanuatu land diving is steeped in superstition. The night before land diving, the divers steep under diving platform toward evil spirits, sexual relationships the day before it is believed that it would be bad luck. On the day of the jump all of the villagers dress in traditional clothing. The men wear nothing but a penis sheath called a nambia. The women wear grass skirts and no tops. “Near naked, he stands 20 meters above a mass of chanting men in the jungle of Vanuatu. Only a nambia (the traditional penis sheath) covers him as he trusts his arms into the air and claps his hands above his head. The chanting from the men below intensifies, as bare-breasted women whistle loudly”. Festivities begin in the morning with traditional drumming and dancing. The women offer emotional support by performing special dances below the tower. There is a moment of silence during the actual jump, but as soon as the crowd below knows the man is safe, there is a roar of support. It is said that many men decide to land to dive to impress a woman. This ritual is extremely risky some men have suffered dislocated ankles and other have died. This rite of passage called land diving dates back nearly 15 centuries. As a tradition from boyhood to manhood, boys as young as five years old will take part in the ritual, which is often preceded by circumcision. Boys start out leaping low on the crude tower, but eventually work their way up as they get older.
The higher a man goes, the manlier the tribe considers him. Before land diving became a traditional ritual for men 15 centuries ago, there was about a legend about a woman running away from her sexually aggressive husband. She was upset and she ran ways to the forest to hide but her husband followed her; she climbed to a Banian tree. Her husband climbed after her. She tied her ankles with the tree vines and then jumped. Her husband jumped too but he died after jumping because he did not tie his ankles with vines before jumping off the tree. “According to folklore, land diving started after a ni-Vanuatu woman ran away from her husband and hid in a tree. The man found her and scaled the trunk but when he reached his wife, she jumped from the brunches and he instinctively followed.