Mariam Amini
Did you know bungee jumping was inspired by this local ritual?
Did you know bungee jumping was inspired by this local ritual?
Mariam Amini

The world’s first ever bungee jump took place over 40 years ago, off the Clifton Suspension Bridge in Bristol in the UK.

As the years went by, more daredevils followed suit, hurling themselves out of hot air balloons and jumping from mobile cranes.

It has since led to the birth of a now global extreme sport, and the newest trend – volcano bungee jumping – is only the latest in this adrenaline-filled passtime.

But where did this idea of attaching a rope to your leg and then freefalling originate? How did the pursuit of the thrill actually start?

To answer this question, we must first head over 9,000 miles to the South Pacific nation of Vanuatu, where one local community has been freefalling for centuries.

North of the capital, in the island of Pentecost, the ritual of land diving still takes place today. Only here, they don’t do it for the thrill. For this group, it is a sacrificial leap of faith.

Trade the rope for two tree vines, and the bungee platform for a man-made wooden tower roughly 20 to 30 meters high, and you’ve pretty much got the gist.

Leapers come forward on a voluntary basis, in the hope of bringing prosperity to the community through a bountiful crop.

Though its exact origins are obscure, land diving (or Gol in the local Sa language and Nanggol in Bislama) has been tied in to the local religion of animism.

A test of courage and tribute to the Gods, boys as young as seven have been known to make the jump.

Travellers of Vanuata have the chance to witness a ceremony every Saturday between the months of April and June, and these events are so much more than just the dive.

A local congregation of dancers who chant in their native tongue are also present, adding to the tense but exhilarating ambiance that clings to the air.

Dressed in the traditional costume of a waistband and sheath, more skilled jumpers may even do a trick on the way down.

Constructed out of forest materials, the diving tower comes with its own risks, and divers must put as much distance between themselves and the rough logs as they can.

The length and health of the vine is another crucial step, and can often be the difference between life and death.

It was during such a ceremony that young Kiwi AJ Hackett first got inspired. Having witnessed the ancient custom in Vanuatu firsthand, the idea of bungee jumping was officially born.

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