Pentecost Island


Pentecost Island

Pentecost Island is one of the 83 islands that make up the South Pacific nation of Vanuatu. It lies 190 km (118 mi) due north of capital Port Vila. Pentecost Island is known as Pentecôte in French.

Geography

Pentecost is a lush, mountainous island which stretches North to South over some 60km. The chain of mountains, dominated by Mount Vulmat (947 m) marks the dividing line between the humid, rainy eastern coast and the more temperate western coast. The coastal plains, cross-cut by small torrents, are generally very green and ideally suited for plantations and livestock.

Pentecost's population centres are concentrated along the west coast, although a number of people also live inland. Major villages along the west coast include (from north to south): Laone, Loltong, Bwatnapne, Melsisi, Waterfall (Vanu), Baravet, Lonorore, Hotwata, Panas, Wali, Pangi and Salap. Away from the coast, there are major settlements at Nazareth in the north, and at Ena, Wutsumel, Hubiku and Tansip in the centre of the island. Most of these places have village telephones and one or two inhabitants who own 'trucks' (4WD vehicles) or 'speedboats' (small motorboats), which the villagers use for transport. A couple of these villages also have small banks and post offices.

The east coast is wild and inaccessible, with relatively few inhabitants, although people are moving into previously-uninhabited areas as the island's population increases. Major villages on the eastern side of the island include Ranwas, Bunlap and Baie Barrier (Ranon) in the south-east, and Vanrasini further north.

History and customs

Pentecost was discovered by European explorers on 22 May 1768 by Louis Antoine de Bougainville. It was influenced by various successive missionaries but traditional customs there remain strong.

The island gets its name from the day on which it was sighted by Captain Cook, during his voyage through the New Hebrides (now Vanuatu) in 1774.

Pentecost Island is most famous for being the spiritual birthplace of the extreme sport of bungee jumping, originating in an ages old ritual called the naghol, or Land Diving. Between April and June every year, men in the southern part of the island jump from tall towers with vines tied to their feet, in a ritual believed to ensure a good yam harvest. The ritual is also now used to show acceptance into manhood. Land diving was first given international exposure when David Attenborough and a BBC film crew brought back footage of the ritual during the 1950s. Queen Elizabeth II visited Pentecost in 1974 and witnessed a land diving ceremony, during which one unfortunate islander died because the jump was performed during a dry season, when the vines were much less elastic. Nowadays, tourists pay large sums of money to witness the ceremony, often during day trips from Port Vila.

The south Pentecost village of Bunlap, a kastom (custom) village in which people choose to maintain an extremely traditional lifestyle, was the subject of a recent TV documentary.

The north Pentecost village of Laone was the birthplace of Walter Lini, who led Vanuatu to independence in 1980. Today, the 'father of the nation' is commemorated by a statue at the nearby Lini Memorial College.

[http://www.michael-craig.com/naghol/naghol.html Land diving images by documentary photographer Michael Craig]

[http://www.flickr.com/photos/kapkap/sets/1635656/ More Land diving, N'gol ceremony, images]

Lifestyle and economy

There are no real towns on Pentecost. Most islanders live in small rural villages, surviving by subsistence agriculture and growing cash crops. Taro, a root vegetable well-suited to Pentecost's wet climate, is the staple food. Manioc (cassava), yams, bananas, kumula (sweet potato), coconuts, island cabbage, pawpaw (papaya), nakavika (rose apples), citrus, sugar cane, cocoa, mangoes, pineapples, nuts, and European vegetables are also grown for local consumption.

Vegetables are often grated into a paste, wrapped in large leaves, baked in an earth oven and covered with coconut cream to create 'laplap', a savoury pudding.

Villagers keep 'bullocks' (cattle), pigs and chickens, which are slaughtered for food, usually on special occasions such as marriages and 'grade-taking ceremonies' (at which aspiring chiefs rise through the ranks). Wild pigeons, flying foxes (fruit bats), crabs and fish are also caught and eaten. Dogs and cats roam the villages, and these too may occasionally end up in the cooking pot.

Imported rice and tinned meat form an increasing part of the diet in more developed areas of the island.

Pigs are highly important in Pentecost society, not only as food but as a traditional item of value, which may be given as payment during marriage ceremonies or as compensation for transgressions. Boars with long, curved tusks are particularly prized. Woven, red-dyed mats are also used as a traditional form of currency.

Traditionally, copra (dried coconut flesh) was Pentecost's main export, but this has now been overtaken by kava, a narcotic root used to prepare a traditional drink. Kava is grown and drunk on many islands in the South Pacific, but Pentecost is particularly well known for it, and much of the kava drunk in Vanuatu's towns and abroad originates on Pentecost.

Cattle were once exported from Pentecost to the meat-processing factory at Luganville on neighbouring Santo island. However, most are now slaughtered locally instead, to feed Pentecost's growing population.

Houses are traditionally constructed from local wood and bamboo, and thatched with leaves of natangura (a variety of palm). However, wealthier islanders now build their houses instead using imported cement and corrugated metal.

Transport and communications

Pentecost has two airfields, at Lonorore in the south-west and Sara in the north, at which small planes land three or four times a week. Cargo ships travelling between Port Vila and Luganville ply the island's west coast, although few ships visit the east coast, where sea conditions are rough and the population is sparse.

A rutted dirt road runs from the north to the south-west of the island, and another road connects Salap in the south-west to Ranwas in the south-east. However, many villages are accessible only by steep mountain footpaths.

Pentecost Island receives regular visits from yachties, who anchor at the villages of Loltong, Waterfall and Pangi. Pangi also has a jetty capable of receiving cruise ships, although visits are rare.

Language

Pentecost Island has five indigenous languages: Raga (North Pentecost language), Abma or Apma (Central Pentecost language), Sowa (a nearly-extinct language once spoken in south-central Pentecost), Seke (a language now spoken only in the village of Baravet), and Sa (South Pentecost language). Abma, which has three distinct dialects, is the most widely-spoken. It is the native language of about half of Pentecost's population (around 8,000 speakers), and is understood by many people from other areas. In recent times, Abma has spread at the expense of the island's other native languages.

In addition, most people on Pentecost speak Bislama, the form of pidgin English that is Vanuatu's national language. Educated islanders also know English or French, which are taught in schools.

ee also

*Motarilavoa Hilda Lini
*Bungee jumping

External links

* [http://www.pentecostisland.net/ PentecostIsland.net - further information on Pentecost]
* [http://www.andrewgray.com/pacific/index.htm Andrew Gray's diaries from Pentecost]
* [http://www.andrewgray.com/pacific/abma.htm Phrases in Abma (Central Pentecost Language)]
* [http://www.andrewgray.com/pacific/kava.htm Kava culture on Pentecost]


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