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Pentecost Island, Vanuatu

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Pentecost Island, Vanuatu

Coordinates: 15 42 S 168 10 E

Area: 190 square miles (492 sq. km)

Whether or not they should be classified as wholly fascinating or purely frightening, you’ve likely heard of skydiving, bridge jumping, and cliff diving. Less familiar may be the practice of land diving, a ritual performed by the men of Pentecost, one of a chain of about 80 volcanic islands that compose the Republic of Vanuatu. Leaping from wooden towers that can be as high as 98 feet (30 m) off the ground, the participants symbolically fertilize the ground by grazing it with their bodies when they reach the end of the liana vines they’ve attached to their feet. More than a thrill-seeking exercise, the men play a role in the ensuring a bountiful yam harvest, one of several food staples that the majority of this lush Pacific island’s inhabitants depend on for their nutritional needs. In southern Pentecost divers take the ceremonial plunge on a weekly basis from April to June.

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Ben Keene is the editor of Oxford Atlas of the World. Check out some of his previous places of the week.

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