Reporter's Notebook: S. Pacific Ritual Bungee Jumping

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The first diver climbed the tower and greeted the crowd like a rock star—the spectators roared back. Underneath the tower other jumpers softened the soil with long sticks in case a diver accidentally crashed.

Defying Death

After playing to the audience some more, the boy leapt headfirst toward the ground. The vines were six inches too long and he smacked the earth hard with his head. Amazingly, he was OK. His friends quickly grabbed him, stood him up, and freed his ankles. When he walked away, the boy raised his arms to the crowd and waived. More cheering ensued. The dangerous ritual repeated itself until the fifth dive, when a teenager's jump went terribly wrong. On the way down the teenager's vines snapped and the young boy slammed face first into the earth. I saw his lips and nose covered in dirt. Everyone rushed to his aid. But the teenager was unconscious.

Someone rushed in with cold water and poured it on his head; immediately the teenager started showing signs of life. After a few minutes of recovery, he was able to limp away, helped by friends and brothers. Everyone breathed a sigh of relief. The dancing and land diving continued.

To rekindle the festive mood one of the elders decided to jump next. For a long time the experienced diver stood on the tower, building anticipation in the crowd and inviting them to regain their enthusiasm. Eventually he made the leap. It was a perfect dive—he landed safely.

Participating in the Dive

After another jump, it was my turn to join the action. It's taboo for foreigners to land dive, but I wasn't going to let that stop my camera from doing it. After a lot of explaining, the chief finally granted me permission to tie a small camera to a diver's leg. It was an unprecedented moment. The crowd loved it, despite the fact that some questioned whether it was taboo-like.

Once the camera was recording, the young man climbed the tower. At the top, vines were attached to his legs. After a few moments of greeting the crowd, he made the dive. Thankfully, he landed safely—or I was going to have 300 angry people chasing me through the jungle. I rushed into the jump area and greeted the diver. The camera had caught it all.

In the late afternoon, the last jump took place. The finale was by one of the most experienced divers in Pentecost. He's been diving for decades. He lunged from the tower confidently and landed safely. Everyone went wild. When it was over, young kids swarmed the tower, dreaming of the day when they would be old enough to also be land divers.

In the evening, a pig was cooked to celebrate a successful Naghol. The string band emerged and many of the young people started dancing. As I downed my kava while watching the festivities, I couldn't help but think about those perilous land dives. The Naghol is Pentecost's culture in its most daring form—men defying death in an unusual and spectacular way.

National Geographic Today, 7 p.m. ET/PT in the United States, is a daily news journal available only on the National Geographic Channel. Click here to learn more about it.

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