Pentecost Island

Pentecost Island is one of the 83 islands that comprise the Vanuatu archipelago. Pentecost island is known as the place where bungee jumping was invented. Because this is so amazing, I have always been under the impression that everyone knows about this—but I have recently discovered this is not so.

No one knows how it started, but make no mistake: they really did invent bungee jumping—and they are still doing it. The people of Vanuatu are Melanesians who descend from people of southern Asia. The western Pacific divided into Micronesia is made up of small islands, Polynesia has many islands, and Melanesia is inhabited by dark-skinned people. Interesting note that of the world’s 6000-7000 existing languages, nearly half are spoken in Melanesia (and most of those in New Guinea). The 46 sq mile Pentecost with 17,000 residents has five local languages, and either French or English are taught in the schools.

Anywho, their claim to fame is ‘land jumping’. They build rickety looking towers as high as 90 feet of sticks and vines, and then the youth of the island gather. One-by-one they climb up and lash a pair of vines to their legs, then stand on a platform screaming for a while as their friends and relations dance and sing below. Then all of a sudden the lad leaps into space, and as the vines tighten he hits the ground—which has been fluffed up and is also at a favorable angle, making it slightly more hospitable.

So why this strange pastime? It seems they believe that land diving propitiates the gods for a good yam harvest. The folks on this island have no towns and are nearly all subsistence farmers, and though nominally Christian, they seem to really dig that ol’ time religion.

So why the name Pentecost? It’s a Christian holiday celebrated on the 7th Sunday after Easter. A French explorer sighted the island on that day and named it as such, much like Christmas or Easter Island. You would think with all those languages they could come up with better name, but it’s because of the many languages that the most common language is Pidgin English.

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