Land-Divers of Melanesia
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by Kal Muller
in collaboration with Robert Gardner for The Film Study Center at Harvard University
34 min, 1972
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On the island of Pentecost in the New Hebrides archipelago, a few hundred Melanesians maintain a traditional life thanks to their geographic isolation and to the leaders who have resisted Christianity, schools and cooperatives. Bunlap, where this film was shot, is the largest and most important community of these people.
To ensure a good yam crop, men of Pentecost Island in Melanesia attach vines to their ankles and dive headlong from a wooden tower over 100 feet tall, a ritual referred to as Naghol or land-diving. Those who dive say the fall clears their mind. The vines are relatively elastic and the ground is softened so injury is rare. For Pentecost Islanders the annual dive takes an appropriate place among other rituals and ceremonies such as blessing the taro crop, circumcising young boys and feasting with relatives, all of which keep them in touch with the forces that control the world in which they live.
Today this ritual has become a tourist attraction for many Westerners, much to the chagrin of anthropologists, and package land diving tours can be arranged throughout the yam harvest season.
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