Ni-Van Jackass

I'm not generally one for explaining photos, but maybe this lot ought to be an exception. And I'm no expert on any of this — I only witnessed it because there are certain things that it isn't possible to say no to — so forgive a slightly garbled and factually ramshackle account.

Pentecost is a mid-sized island towards the north-east of Vanuatu. In the south of the island, a few wooden towers around 15 metres high are erected every year around April, from wood lashed together with vines, the tops tethered to surrounding trees. Men then dive from the tops with vines tied to their legs to break their fall just before (hopefully, but not always) they hit the ground. If the vines are too short, then they tend to bounce back against the scaffolding at the base of the tower, unable to stop themselves by reaching out to the ground. If the vines are too long, then... well, they plough the earth up and remove most of the sharper stones from around the landing area, but to be honest it still looks pretty painful. Boys first learn the art at the age of around eight, beginning near the ground and gradually jumping from higher and higher up. This is all part of a religious ceremony, with the usual trappings of singing and dancing, whose purpose is to bless the yam harvest. It's a sort of organic fertaliser.

The most recent fatality was a waetman photographer climbing up through one of the towers when it collapsed on him and three others last year. The other three survived.

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