Part Four


Londot Village, Wali Bay

Pentecost Island, Vanuatu







September 23, 2012

Wali Bay: 15 54'.74S 168 11'.25E


A strange thing occurs in the southern part of Pentecost each year. Towers are erected of logs and branches and men climb them, tie vines around their ankles, walk out on an extended platform, lean forward, and plummet head first. If all goes well, only their hair will touch the ground. N'gol, better known as land diving, is performed each week during the months of April, May and June to ensure a successful yam harvest.



Information gathered from the electronic Rocket Guide, Lonely Planet, and online suggested the best place to anchor near a land diving site was Wali Bay on the western side of Pentecost. Aside from a dugout canoe, Tenaya was the only boat in sight.

The water is deep until fairly close to shore. We dropped the hook about 100 meters off in 12 meters in front of thatched structure. After anchoring and backing down twice, we were still not convinced it was well stuck so put out extra scope. The wind was forecast to be extremely light and we were sheltered from the prevailing southeasterly winds so we hoped for the best, climbed into the kayak and paddled to shore to look for a tower.



We had no luck. The towers are not permanent and must be mostly rebuilt each week. Once the ritual is over, what remains of the towers are dismantled to allow the bush to regenerate.

We learned this from Luke Fargo, proprietor of the bungalows at Londot, just beyond Wali Bay. Many years ago, Luke saw the financial and cultural benefits of showcasing N'gol (nangol, naghol, nagol) in an accessible location. Until then, it occurred in the southwestern corner of the island far from any roads and over difficult terrain. Now people can fly in from Santo or Port Vila for the day and witness the spectacular event.



As we carried the kayak up the beach, Luke came down to welcome us. He was pleased that we had come to learn about land diving. And, because we were here out of season, he had plenty of time to talk with us. He was friendly as could be. Phillipe, chief of the next village, soon joined us. Perhaps because Jim and I were sweating profusely in the afternoon sun, they suggested we carry on the lessons under the shade of the roomy structure.



Luke offered to take us to the site of the land diving, and we were keen to see it, so up the hill and past his bungalows we trudged. There he explained what a man goes through to dive.



It is not for everyone and the time must be right. The man will know it in his heart. Once a boy is circumcised he is eligible to dive. He may do it right away or years later. Or never. On a man's first dive the height is determined by how high his fingertips reach when his arm is held outstretched above his head. Each subsequent dive is measured the same way, moving up from his previous height.

A special man determines the length of the vines by looking at the diver. Another man accompanies the diver on the platform to keep his tethers from tangling. Usually the dives are successful but sometimes a vine breaks.



After N'gol is the yam planting season. Everyone participates. We wondered why the village looked like a ghost town until Luke explained that all the people were up in their gardens planting yams. He invited us to visit his family's garden the following morning.



Pentecost runs north to south, is long and narrow, and has a mountainous spine running its length. The western side receives copious amounts of rainfall. A narrow strip of flat land buffers the jungly steepness from the sea. It is on this mountainside that the villagers have their gardens.



This area has a special stone that helps the yams grow heartily. The story goes that an important man was dismembered after death. His parts were spread all over the island in the quest for robust tubers. The parts turned to stone. Places that received arms and legs grow yams that are long and narrow. Places that received internal organs produce yams that are shorter and fuller. This area was fortunate enough to receive the man's penis. Go ahead, imagine the yams.



Luke's son gave us a demonstration on how the yams are planted while the ladies went on planting row after row along the steep mountainside.



















Kava is very important in all of Vanuatu. Luke, who also happens to be a chief, told us the story of kava.



A boy married a girl and moved into their own house.  But after a while his wife snuck away and had sex with his brother.  The chief knew this and told the boy.  The boy was very sad but did not do anything.

Then when it was yam planting season and everyone was helping to plant yams the husband went to an old field and dug a deep hole.  Then while everyone was helping plant his yams he took his wife to the old field and told her he needed to dig the hole deeper and she went into the hole and started to dig, but he killed her and left her in the hole head first.

Then he went to get his brother and took him to the hole and showed him his wife and told him he had to eat her private parts.  The brother did but could not swallow them and ran home. He spit the pieces out of his mouth onto the ground. 

That night the woman appeared to him in a dream and told him that where he spat a new type of plant would grow. She told him what to do with it. When the plant grew he took the roots and put them on a special board shaped like the breast and stomach of the woman. He ground the roots and mixed them with water. This was the first kava. The kava, which comes from the woman, makes people happy and content and promotes peace.



Luke invited us to have kava with Phillipe and paramount Chief Molsais who was visiting their village.



Phillipe cut up the kava. He and Chief Molsais ground it up with a chunk of coral resembling, of all things, a penis. When a juicy pile formed, Chief Molsais scooped it up and plopped it on a piece of cloth and wrapped it up. He squeezed the ground kava root into a bottle and then poured the contents of the bottle through a coconut husk into a half a coconut shell. He repeated this process for each cup served. Chief Molsais drank first, then Jim, then myself, then Phillipe, then Luke. Two other men prepared kava for all the other men.



We would have liked to have spent more time here enjoying the beauty, meeting the people, hearing the stories and learning more from Luke, but we had to keep moving.



The following day Chief Molsais and some of his family joined us on Tenaya as we motored up to the northern part of Pentecost.



Go to September Part Four A - Chief Molsais, Pentecost, Vanuatu


Pentecost Photo Gallery


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