Apologies for the long silence from Khulula since I (Ryan and Bryso’s mother) came abroad, and agreed, in an enthusiastic rush of creativity, to do the blog about the land-diving (the purist’s version and father of modern bungy jumping) which we planned to watch when we got to Pentecost Island, the only place in the world where it is practiced. Once on board, I learned in short order that, not only does seasickness SUCK (apologies – my English has deteriorated) but the preventative pharmaceuticals reduce me to a mumbling half-wit. Pentecost and the land-diving came and went ten days ago. We are now – June 2nd – anchored off an absolutely perfect atoll, isolated, uninhabited, and lost in an ocean of so many different blues that words fail me. Ryan is making breakfast (fresh fried Snapper with egg and chips – which follows fresh pawpaw and pampelmoos earlier)
Before I move on to the land-diving (called nagol or nangol or narghol depending on which Bislami pamphlet you read), I must tell you that, last night, we watched the sun go down over the blues and sands and corals of this atoll (Reef Island off Banks Islands) while we sipped upon sushi and wine. I believe Thea was the inventor of Khulula sushi in New Zealand, and last night’s was the Art Form … Mahi Mahi or Yellow Fin Tuna, wrapped with rice,avocado, cumalo (island potato/yam), made by Iron Chef Hugh. You will note that, since arriving on this atoll, we have eaten nothing but FISH – freshly caught.
This is also my second blog – the first one drowned an unnatural death when a series of waves erupted through the hatch of the main cabin, crossed with force into the nav station, and landed gigantically on the open computer … which didn’t, despite relentless, inventive and unwaveringly optimistic engineering intervention by Bryson, survive. Khulula was making it as a ferry that day because Ryan had stepped into the breech when 18 graduates of the missionary trainee programme from Church of Glad Tidings near Sacramento found themselves virtually stranded on Maewo Island where we were anchored. They had arrived on the island ferry, but the weather had turned bad, and, understandably believe me, the island chief was concerned about them returning to catch their flight the same way, especially as they had lost four members of their community when a boat capsized the week before – and there was an uncomfortable belief on the island that black magic was behind it. So, Khulula and her 3 trusty crew at the helm took on wild seas and black magic, and delivered its cargo of 16 safely across the strait. It was great watching them leave with happy kids packed along the deck wires, their legs hanging over, laughing and shrieking at the waves breaking over them – but safe. Old King Neptune Mike Robertson (with a very salty fortnight old speckledy beard) and his lovely wife (who, like a dandelion, threatens to blow away every time the wind catches the impenetrable thicket – which used to be called hair – atop her head) spent the morning socializing with the Ni-Vans in Asanvari Village. It was a treat – these people of the happiest on earth, and a lesson to us all with their huge smiles and welcoming ways. I did a test in Port Vila – catch the eye of any passerby, and see if he/she smiled. Result – ONE HUNDRED PERCENT full-on smile.
So, the land-diving was a heart-in-mouth experience, I can tell you. Contrary to the wide belief that this is an initiation rite, no-one is forced to do it. In fact, even Chief, who was very much part of the proceedings that day, said no way would he ever jump. The spirit of the jump is just given to some men (never women), and, of course, it is the mark of a hero. They are required to build their own towers with branches and liana thongs up to heights of 40 metres or more, and then, during a ceremony at which the whole village is present and the woman dance and whip up a frenzy, they jump with the thongs (vines) tied to their ankles. The success of the jump is measured by how close the jumper’s head is to the ground – and, in reality, this means they come to rest with their heads at an angle to their shoulders on the ground. Eeek stuff.
The naghol ceremony has now become commercial – in fact costs 80,000 vatu per person (US$80), which, when a cruise ship comes in with 3,000 people, is nothing to scoff at. It was worth every penny, however – and basically took most of the day because anything on island-time always does. We were a crowd of about 30 waiting on a coral beach while people were collected from sailing boats, and flights chartered in from neighbouring islands. We were then led up a hillside into the tropical jungle, hot and steamy, until we reached quite a steep clearing – and, at the top was this crude tower about 30 metres high, leaning back from the slope. In front was an area of freshly turned mud (constantly checked by The Chief for wetness) for a softer landing. The village women in their grass skirts and flowers lined up behind the tower – and started winding up the atmosphere with singing and dancing.
Then the jumpers appeared. In Bislama, the tribe that “owns” the naghol ceremony are called the Big Nambas. So, it wasn’t a surprise to notice that the jumpers were stark naked except for their big nambas which were securely encapsulated in a colourful grass-woven sheath, which in turn was attached with grass woven thongs to a band around their waist. In fact, it all hung together so well with the tribal dancing, the primitive beat, the heat, the jungle and the daze from anti-seasick tablets that even if Hugh, Ryan and Brys had appeared with their big nambas similarly attired, I would have merely thought they’d dressed for the occasion.(There is a tribe of Smol Nambas somewhere, but I haven’t yet worked out what they do).
Spectators sat up in horror, however, when several children appeared among the jumpers. One learns very quickly here that children are a much-loved and integral part of tribal life and join in everything. An aside here – contrast this to western society. On the Vanuatu Islands, a child gets detention if he goes to school without his machete. Well, I ask you, how can a child learn to survive unless he has a machete? How can he eat a coconut, skin a pampelmoos, spear a fish, cut his way up a tree etc? Among the chickens and pigs, the villages are scattered with butt-naked little kids as young as a year old carrying machetes as big as themselves. I asked a grandmother about this, and she said – oh yes, they cut themselves but they learn very quickly.
Meanwhile, the scene is hotting up at the nanghol, and the little chap has come forward on to his tiny platform about 12 feet off the ground. It is all heat, beat, and dancing women swinging their skirts and everything else while the frenzy builds ….. then the little chap looses his courage and backs off. The other jumpers go to his aid, and THERE IS NO CONDEMNATION AT ALL. In fact, the women break off the dancing and singing, and there is a little gentle laughter (our equivalent of “ahhhh”). But he is back on again, and the women give it all their worth. The men start to yell “Huk-huk. Huk-huk” and the beat builds. The little chap goes through the traditional movements leading up to the jump – he yells huk-huk while he psyches himself up, he opens up his arms and arches backwards, he puts his hands into prayer position, he claps twice …. And he jumps. And lands really badly. On his face. The westerners cry out in horror. The islanders say – ah, it is his first jump and he will learn. The Chief picks the child up, and congratulates him, and the crowd roars in applause – and he, with mangled face, feels terrific. A real hero. Next time he will get it right.
At least a dozen jumpers jumped, moving up the tower in age and height. At one stage, I was quite mermerized by the tower itself – it was a sculpture of textures, being the harsh branches and vines of the tower intertwined with the glistening perfection of brown naked skin as the men snaked their way up towards the higher jumps. The jumps got higher and the jumpers more experienced, and one could begin to understand the art of the jump. It was literally marvellous. Primitive it might have been, but the technique was there. Each jumper jumped from a small platform which broke as the jumper reached the full extent of his vines – helping to break the jolt. The jumpers also jumped outwards above the slope so that the vines reached full tension in mid-air, and the jumper then twisted as he swung downwards onto the freshly turned muddy ground on one shoulder.
And, oh my goodness, if you’ve ever seen young cockerels perform when they are trying to convince some hens that they are fine roosters – these were them. Jump accomplished, the women would go beserk with song and dance while the jumpers preened and crowed and strutted their stuff. A very familiar and universal show of testosterone. Nothing is new under the sun ……. Sigh.
Okay, my blog is finished – and I now hand over to the crew of Khulula to edit and erase. Today we leave our beautiful atoll, having spent two nights with the trade winds howling through the rigging and rocking our floating home. Tonight we anchor in a bay with two waterfalls so huge that you can see them on Google Earth (Vanua Lava Island) . Last night we built a bonfire on the beach, watched the sun go down behind the gigantic crater of Ureparapara Island – it was an evening to remember forever. And there is utterly no way to do it other than in a sailing boat.
Hugh – who truly deserves the Pope John Paul award for patience and good-heartedness for putting up with Old King Neptune and his wild-haired and seasick wife.
Thank you, Jess Kippan, for the anxiety tablets of which I quaffed a prodigious quantity before I embarked upon my maiden voyage. I have some left for the next Lady Like Me who is Terrified of the Sea. I belong to the converted now ,,,,,
Thank you, Ryan and Brys, for being so happy to share this phenomenal achievement with your enthusiastic Pa, and very ill-suited and fearful Ma. Thank you for the experience of a lifetime. Thank you, Khulula. I will never forget this.
* Blossom is my mom’s nickname