11. The people of Pentecost Island have been using their version of bungee jumping as a coming-of-age ritual for centuries
These days, the ‘land diving’ ritual of the people of Pentecost Island, Vanuatu, is known the world over. The earliest version of bungee-jumping, it’s now a major tourist attraction. However, for centuries it was used as a coming-of-age ritual for the men of the island. Unsurprisingly, given it involves jumping from wooden towers up to 30 meters high with nothing but two tree vines tied around the ankles for protection, it is regarded as the ultimate test of courage – and, therefore, of masculinity.
According to tradition, only the men of a village may jump. They prepare for the big day by secluding themselves from women, abstaining from sex for up to a week. Then, when the day comes, the youngest, least-experienced jumpers go first. The aim is to get as close to the ground as possible, ideally brushing the earth with the head or shoulders. The riskier, the better. A young diver’s mother will be in the crowd, watching and holding onto a special item from the boy’s childhood. When he makes a successful jump, the item is symbolically thrown away – the boy has become a man. However, there is no compulsion to jump. Boys and men can decline to take part in the ceremony without being shunned or judged by their community.