Every year from April to June, the Vanuatuan island of Pentecost hosts one of the most spectacular and death-defying cultural ceremonies ever conceived. Known as the Nagol, it sees men climb flimsy 100-foot wooden towers and dive headfirst into empty space, with nothing to break their fall but vines tied their ankles.
Despite its primitive appearance, the Nagol Adi is a marvel of intelligent design. The diving boards are designed to snap and hinge downward to absorb much of the divers’ G-force, the wood is freshly cut to ensure strength and vines are carefully tailored to each diver’s weight and height. Diving is only permitted in the two months following the wet season to ensure the vines contain the water that lends them elasticity and strength.
Adherence to religious customs is also considered essential to a diver’s safety. While the tower is being constructed, divers live together in men-only huts and avoid contact with women — a ritual said to clarify their minds. As belief in sorcery is widespread in Vanuatu, divers are also prohibited from asking witchdoctors to supply them “love potions” during this period. On a few occasions when the rules have been bent, it has cost lives.