Thursday, June 2, 2016

Land Diving, Londot Village, South Island Pentecost, Vanuatu



Hello Everyone,

I am sitting in the cockpit of the boat watching Pentecost fade away in the distance as we are leaving and making our way to Santo.  The last two days are probably one of my most favorite memories of our trip.  It was truly special and so impactful.  Not just the spiritual experience of watching these men jump off the land diving platform to the softened dirt below and the courage and bravado that it takes to do so… but also the kids, the people, the kindness, and gentleness in their souls.  

We anchored right off of Luc’s Bungalows on Pentecost which is just north of Home Bay.  There are two spots where they do land diving in the world, and they are on the South Island of Pentecost.  Londot Village came recommended to us by the Vanuatu Cruising Guide and a few of the boats that we met in New Zealand that had cruised here the year before.  The anchorage was really quiet and mellow which always makes for a good spot for us… Chris took the two little girls to shore with him to find out what the scoop is and to meet some of the people.  We needed to confirm the land diving for Wednesday and to see if there was anything else we needed to know for our stay.  Watching them go to shore and how they were all approached and greeted by many was so nice to see.  I knew then it would be a wonderful stay and we would hopefully be able to connect with a few.  It is so nice when you can learn from the people in the village how they live their lives and participate even just a little in their culture.  



The beach is constantly being used by the village people from kids running, playing and swimming, to the women preparing the fish for meals or laundry or just watching the children play.  It was beautiful to see the life in the village and was to much for Amaia and Alina to sit on the sidelines.  They immediately wanted the kayak and the paddle boards in the water so they could go play with the kids.  The kids swallowed them up as soon as they got into shore just like they were old friends.  All of them together running, playing sword fighting, throwing rocks, swimming, kicking the soccer ball.  I just can’t get enough and am so proud of how easily it is for the little girls to go and play with anyone (all ages) and just be a part of their daily life.  It makes me so happy that they can blend in and just adapt to what is happening around them.  It doesn’t matter that the kids spoke in their native language (baslamic), or french and some in broken english.  





The next day we headed to the beach and I decided to bring in bubbles for the kids.  I was tired and really don’t like passing out the candy… not only for the sugar but I worry about the chocking hazards for the little ones.  The kids were having the best time and the smiles on their faces were priceless.  They kept calling them balloons.  The kids are often shy around the adults so I was glad to have the bubbles to bring them in closer and play with them.  






We started to walk down the path trying to find a woman in the village to get our data plans and cell plans topped up.  They system here is that a person in the village has put credit on her plan and then you pay her/him and they will transfer money using their phone to yours.  So it isn’t like going into AT&T to buy service.  Often they are just a person sitting on the ground cooking or preparing a meal for their family with babies all around or just someone in their hut that you go to top up your plans.  

She has her phone and she is cutting up the Kava root 

Anyway after we had done that we were on our way back to the boat and the little girls wanted to walk back along the beach… so I told them to just meet us back at the dinghy.  Well, on our way back we decided to go and see the land diving platform knowing that it wasn’t to far away and with the girls on the beach I knew it would take them awhile to wander back down turning over every stone along the way.  After a while I realized that they weren’t back yet and I also didn’t see them on the beach.  Our village guide John, who is also Luc’s son, started to walk off to go find them.  When he didn’t return after about 20 minutes I thought maybe I should go as well.  


Chris just sitting with John.. He had just made this canoe.  It took him one week to carve it out.

I walk down the beach and up toward the path when I see John and the girls walking back with pamplemousse their arms.  Amaia was so excited and Alina explained that their (Friend) was on the beach and invited them back to her house to see it and play.  They were up in the village and Amaia has said how they met the grandparents and they taught Alina and Amaia how to cut up the pamplemousse.  I only learned today that they had given Amaia a machete to use to cut the fruit… I never thought to ask.  I asked her how big it was and she stretched out her arms about 18”… Yep that sounds about right.  I see all the kids running around with those knives.  


The little girls really didn’t see why I may have been concerned for them and that they were just up with their friends.  Amaia says she knows where the boat is and can always find her way back to it… Hmmmm.  I love the security and confidence they have of being out here and it truly is a very secure and loving environment for the kids.  They are always welcomed and taken care of.  The women just swoop in and truly enjoy the kids and their play.  


 This is the Luc's wife Marie

The Kava Bar.. one glass of Kava is 50 cents



 Luc's Bungalows he rents out to tourists


 Village housing... they are all so close together in this village.


In the village were a group of small children we hadn’t seen yet.  I gave Amaia the bubbles and she went over to them and started making bubbles.  I don’t think they understood what they were because they started running away from them with these scared looks on their faces.  Alina started to chase and pop the bubbles with her hands and the kids picked up on it and started to do the same.  Then it was all a competition with the kids running into each other to get the bubbles first.  There were still a few in the back ground that weren’t sure about this whole scene.  It was fun watching them and trying to imagine what could possibly be going on in there minds.


Amaia drew the heart


You can see the look of uncertainty on his face

And then he just stayed back and watched




Even though it has only been a day or so we have been able to spend time sitting on the beach and talking to them.  They are very patient and polite people and there is something about the ease of just being together and sitting on the beach and watching the kids play and enjoying each others company.  We could ask questions about their lifestyle, what they like to do, do they get cold at night, just random questions and they were so patient and would ask us questions in return… how do we get water, do we catch a lot of fish, where have we been, what is it like living on the boat… 

Maybe they are thinking… I wonder when these people are going to go back to their boat and leave us alone… but we never really felt that from them and it was lovely to just be.

The morning of the Land Dive Ceremony we all get up and are at the beach by 9am to meet Luc.  We gather at the Kava Bar where they have prepared some fruit and lemon water for us. His brother Abel is our guide and will stay with us through the ceremony to answer any questions we may have and to also make sure we are in the right place for pictures and also to not go where we are not supposed to.  Traditionally only the men are allowed near the platform.  The platform is only about 100 meters from the Kava Bar up a hill.  The platform is probably at least 70 feet high if not higher from where they actually land.  It is built in two weeks under the supervision of one man.  Bong is the chief of the village the divers come from and his family has been constructing the platforms for generations.  They call him the doctor.  He is also the one to decide if the vines are of good quality for these boys/men to use to jump.  This trade has been passed down through the generations of his family and only his family and will continue to do so as long as they have sons.






We walked up through the bush up this hill to the platform where it stands pressed against the hillside attached at the bottom to a tree that they have trimmed to build the platform against. The platform when you first look at it, looks like a Boyscout pioneering tower on steroids.  










It doesn’t look like it will hold itself up let alone men climbing up and down and jumping from its heights.  We are lead by Abel up to the top of the hill so that we can get better pictures and video of the ceremony.  As we climb up we recognize quite a few of the men from the village.  One is our friend John that is dressed in his ceremonial costume and greets us with a huge smile and wave.  He has jumped 3 times and has decided that is enough so now he waits at the bottom of the platform and helps the men get untied from their twines after they have jumped. 




When we climb up, there some of the men from the village standing there waiting for the rest of the dancers and for the divers to be ready.  One by one the men start filling in with the others at the top of the hill with us and begin chanting traditional songs for a good harvest, safety and courage for their divers and encouragement to be brave.  Then the women and children begin making the climb and all of them wearing their traditional grass skirts.  They stand behind the men and then all of them join in harmony as the divers start to climb the towers.  






It takes several men in the tower to help prepare each diver for their jump.  There are two on the ground and about 4 in the tower.  They are working together to select from the vines that they have hanging from the tower already and then carefully wrapping the twine in and out of the ankles of the diver.  The chanting, stomping and dancing get stronger and stronger the closer the diver gets to the edge of his plank he is diving off of.  This day there were 6 divers so their had to be 6 planks to jump from because once the diver jumps the plank breaks to help lessen the fall.  The men at the bottom have already loosened and dug up the dirt below to make it soft incase something goes wrong.  They all hit the dirt so each time a diver lands they men have to stir up and soften the dirt again.

Here is a link for one of the younger boys that went first.  I am guessing he was between 13 - 16 years old.    https://youtu.be/a1ftEp46l3U





The chanting and stomping in the background combined with the sun peeking in and out of these dark ominous clouds from above and the man on the plank chanting and reaching his arms to the sky and then covering his face as he slowly fall forward off of the plank is as spiritual moment that I have had in a long time.  You can see his legs shaking as he stands there to gather courage and strength to make this leap of faith.  The first boy to go was maybe around 15 (could have been younger) and he went from a lower platform that was maybe 30 or 40 feet off the ground.  The chanting begins and the arms outstretched to the sky and then covering the face, the lean forward, and the fall is so quick that your mind has a hard time catching up to what you actually just saw.  The plank breaks and you hear a loud crack and see the boy bouncing off of the ground.  Then the men below rush to pick him up and cut the vines off of his ankles and make sure he can walk away.



Bong, The Chief and doctor of the land diving jumped twice.  He is the only one to jump from the very top of the platform.  I wish I could describe how high this really is in person.  We think it was around 70 feet.  Bong jumped from the plank just below the very top and from the very top.  He was also one of the dancers chanting for the other men.  At one point one of the men were getting ready to dive and he stopped everyone and yelled at the men preparing the diver and they adjusted something and then he went back to chanting and the ceremony started up again.

Bong was the last to jump from the highest plank on the tower.  He was up there for about 5 minutes chanting with the group of men and women below and raising his arms to the sky before covering his face and making a leap outward with arms stretched to the earth below.  Again, CRACK and then you see him bounce off the ground.  I cannot believe that these men get up and walk away after a fall like that.  Not only once does he dive from the highest planks on the tower, but twice and not only twice in one day but he does this ceremony twice a week, every Wednesday and Saturday from April through June.  WHAT!

Here is a link to a short video... https://youtu.be/Tayysktgn3Q









Okay,,, wow!  That was incredible and then before you can turn around to watch the dancers again, one of the dancers is climbing the platform and is getting ready to make the dive.  Each dive got higher and higher and for me more and more dramatic.  To tell you the truth after the 2nd dive I wasn’t sure if my heart was going to take it.  It was pounding so fast I thought that I was going to have a heart attack.  My words just don’t do it justice and I wish I was better with capturing the atmosphere, the spiritualness, the rawness, the tradition and culture that we were witnessing.  


Selfishly we were very lucky to be the only cruisers here for this ceremony and for us it was even more special because of this.  After the ceremony was finished they let Tristan climb to the top of the tower to get a better look...  




We all went back down the hill and the men from the ceremony and the chiefs invited Chris back to the Kava Bar to celebrate with them.  The Kava here in Vanuatu is so much stronger than any we ever tried in Fiji and Tonga.  You can definitely feel the numbness immediately in your throat and your tongue after you drink it…. to the point you feel like you have had a novocain shot.  If you drink too much… this stuff can really knock you on your but.  


I went back to the boat with the kids and uploaded the photos.  I wanted to give them a copy on a dvd because there is one small tv and dvd player in the village in Luc’s house.  I thought it would be nice if they had a copy of the pictures and videos we took of the ceremony.  I made a really quick iMovie and then packed up the computer, our projector and screen and brought them all into the Kava Bar.  The villagers looked at us like we were crazy bringing all this crap into their hut.   Once we got everything set up I started the movie I had mad of them.  There were about 20 people and a few kids at first… but once they realized what was going on more and more gathered to watch.  They had NEVER seen a video before of their performance or their dives and some had NEVER seen a video before.  They couldn’t believe it and wanted to see it again and again. I also showed them a number of the pictures from the ceremony.  Most of them again have never left the village and when we told them that we had been to Tanna to see the volcano they said, “Why do you want to do that, it is just fire!”  So we showed them some of the video and pictures and they were amazed.  We also showed the Mexico because they couldn’t imagine a land without trees… They thought that was just crazy and then when I showed some of the different styles of dancing they just giggled and tutted at the Tahitian dancers… Super cute.  We ended the night with half of Finding Nemo for the kids before my projector ran out.  



Again…. What a memorable stop on our journey and one that we will never forget.  I know I have forgotten some things but the whole experience was just overwhelming…

John

Luc

Chief Bong (still walking)


And when you think you can’t do something or you need strength just picture these guys… and you know you can do anything if you have the mind set.

Hugs and Love,

Heather

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