Indigenous groups in Vanuatu are calling for recognition of the country’s bungee jumping roots.
In 2018, the Republic of Vanuatu inscribed into its laws a bill that aimed to protect traditional knowledge and expressions of culture for commercial use.
Put forward by the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Tourism, the act says that having such legislation in place “provides an avenue where the custom owners of such traditional knowledge can register their custom knowledge and gain legal rights to protect their custom knowledge”.
The minister used the similarity of ‘Nagol’ to bungee jumping as an example of possible prior consent not being given.
Nagol, or ‘land diving’, is a ritual performed on Vanuata’s Pentecost Island. Performed by the men of the island, the ritual involves them jumping from a constructed wooden tower, around 20 to 30 metres high, with vines draped around their ankles connected to the tower to catch their fall.
This ritual occurs every year at the end of Vanuatu’s monsoon season, and is said to have inspired the inception of modern bungee jumping, a worldwide phenomenon in adventure tourism that came to popularity in the 1980s.
Indigenous elders call for recognition
But indigenous elders have voiced their frustration over the sport, which they believe was stolen from Vanuatu’s people.
“We were shocked because they told us they made a lot of money out of that,” Chief Luke Fargo, 69, told ABC News.
“I would like to send a message to all the people who use the bungee jump, [that it] was taken from the Pentecost regional land dive.”
Fargo has reportedly performed the ritual himself many times, and invites travellers to watch Nagol ceremonies from his home on the southern tip of Pentecost Island. He told the outlet that he and other Indigenous chiefs from Vanuatu have called for compensation from bungee jump operators to be funnelled into their communities.
They remain pessimistic about receiving royalties.
“I think if they pay a small [amount of] money to us on the island, it would be better,” Fargo said.
John Huri, a member of Vanuatu’s Intellectual Property Office who helped draft the bill, believes the legislation will not “retrospectively” help chiefs like Luke Fargo gain royalties from bungee jumpers.
Speaking to ABC News, Huri said the enactment of the bill will, however, help prevent any future exploitation of Vanuatu’s traditional customs.
“The issue of Nagol [is one] where the local people stand aside and see people coming in and getting their knowledge and commercialising it … without properly acknowledging and asking the people whether they give their consent to it,” Huri told ABC News.
Featured image: N’gol Pentecôte Vanuatu (Flickr/Laurent Gass Photography)