National Geographic : 1970 Dec
Pocketed in primitive life between jungle and sea, fiber-skirted girls plait mats at Bunlap, the Pentecost Island village where the author and three assistants lived for seven months. Coral reefs long preserved the isolation of these people, but, as today's tide of travelers moves closer, the 130 villagers find it harder to maintain their traditional culture. I held my arms tight against my chest so that I wouldn't break an arm when I touched ground. My knees were slightly bent, as prop er form prescribed. I had been warned not to open my eyes during my fall, but I did any way. The brown mass of earth rushed up as if to embrace me. With incredible precision, the lianas snapped taut. The platform, supported only by slender branches, collapsed under the strain, absorbing the shock of the fall. My head barely touched dirt as I rebounded, finally coming to rest upside down. Twenty men rushed to me. They cut the vines and carried me triumphantly off the landing area, pressing cycas fronds into my hands. Everyone shouted about how well I had jumped. "Me look you no fright," my friend Meleun told me. It was a perfect moment for me. I felt oddly unshaken. The excitement had overridden any physical discomfort. And my past experiences as a parachutist certainly 802 helped prepare me for the land dive. I did not escape totally uninjured-some of the skin was ripped off one ankle. It could have been far worse: I learned the next evening that one of my lianas had broken. Then I really began worrying about what might have happened. The land dive was the culmination and the most exciting moment of my seven months' stay in Bunlap. I had been in the New Hebri des on several occasions, but knew little of the people of Bunlap except that they formed a very close group, did not care for strangers, and usually refused to be photographed, espe cially during their ceremonies. Despite the villagers' isolation, their chief, Bong (opposite page), has had extensive con tacts with whites. As a boy he worked for the United States Army on Espiritu Santo, largest island in the New Hebrides and site of a major World War II military base. He remem bered how well our troops treated his people then. These memories helped immensely in my contacts with the villagers.