||The Primal Jump as a Bungee-Jump
Where the real world turns into
mere images, the mere images turn into real beings and into the effective motivations of a
Guy Debord (Die Gesellschaft des Spektakels, Thesis 18)
Lloyd DeMause clarified in his essay entitled "Die fötalen Ursprünge der Geschichte" that certain information led him to the opinion that the human soul is moulded by prenatal experiences, that can be remembered and overworked later in life. Thus, I decided to confirm his theory in view of on-hand materials on bungee-jumping and the land-diving ritual.Bungee-jumping has been practised in Europe as an action-sport since the end of the 1970s. The first of these jumps occurred on the 1st of April, 1979 in Bristol , when members of the "Oxford University Dangerous Sport Society" jumped from the railing of a 230 feet high expansion bridge, simply in order to drop into the deep. The deadly landing which would normally await someone jumping from such a height was impeded by an elastic line, with its ends attached to the diver as well as the bridge. Shortly afterwards, this obscure exercise was shown on TV and in the tabloids and dubbed as "Bungee-Jumping". Meanwhile these happenings have established themselves in many places as a commercially exploited leisure time activity. It is offered not only as a fun-fair rumpus to a raucous crowd, but also in connection with luxurious adventure-trips, with jumps from helicopters, balloons or cable railcars. A single German supplier had 150,000 jumps carried out by 1995.
The first participants from Oxford, said that they had taken on the task of inventing new and dangerous types of sports. On their search for unknown and thrilling opportunities of exercise, they came across the land-diving ritual of the inhabitants of an island in the South Sea State presently called Vanuatu (at that time still called New Hebrides), which had been carried out for centuries. In this ritual, called gol in the local dialect, the natives from the village Bunlap in the south of the island of Pentecost build an 85 feet tall scaffolding with platforms at different levels. Some of the natives then jump head-first from these platforms. Just before the jumper crashes into the ground and breaks his neck, his fall is hindered by vines tied to both his legs and the scaffolding above. The divers sometimes touch the soft ground with their hands and even the hair on their heads just before they are jerked back into the air for a short moment. Then the cheering natives run up and help to remove the vine. This ritual found its way into scientific journals as well as into Disney's comics and was very exciting for the "Dangerous Sports society" members. They could not be the inventors of this type of sport, but they wanted to imitate and cultivate it with modern materials. Since then these roots have been referred to many times. Since this sport became so immensely popular in the western world, the questions arose: "Why do they do it? Why do skilled workers in an industrial society spend up to a tenth of their monthly net wage so as to dive into the deep for a few seconds? What's the use? Doesn't it hurt?"
Jumps into the world
Whereas bungee-jumping is often viewed as a type of excitement for dulled members of a decadent society of super-abundance or is explained with special hereditary factors by scientists, it would definitely be interesting to examine whether the Land-Divers also had the same motivation and if they also drop into the deep due to boredom or whether they have similar genes. Answers to these questions can be found in DeMause's "Model of the Foetal Drama", which represents to him the deepest level of meaning in every religious or political ritual. Just as prae- and perinatal psychology he assumes that a psychic life exists before and during birth. But after the analysis of research reports on the pre-birth state he assumes that a foetus does not view its stay in the mother's womb as a condition of continual and protected state of bliss. In the course of a normal pregnancy the maternal organism is just not able to supply the foetus evenly and sufficiently with nutrient and oxygen at least during the last three months of pregnancy. The lack of oxygen results in prenatal experiences of great pain. The foetus connects the resulting confused anger, fear and longing for relief to his environment, i.e. the uterus with umbilical cord and placenta. Depending on the course of pregnancy, the more constricted the foetus feels and the more threatening and painful the temporary oxygen deficiency is experienced, until the foetus is driven to the final act: birth. Due to the deformation of the skull and other circumstances birth itself is also experienced as very painful. If a new-born really views the normal prenatal life and birth as painful but does not have the ability to integrate these experiences in more delicate explanatory pattern, then these memories must take on a deeply traumatic character . Every ritual that is invented and practised over a longer period of time in the course of developing cultures can be applied in DeMause's model to this impressive foetal drama, so as to overwork the painful experiences in the womb. The pains and trials, which makes many rituals appear extremely brutal, are also connected to a recidivism, which in my opinion expresses the desire to be freed once more after a phase of suffering. Therefore, a rebirth provides oneself with the renewed ability to breathe freely and to continue to grow with an equally greater mobility. I am always reminded of a popular vernacular: "You know what's wonderful? Wonderful is when the pain eases off."
One should be able to find elements of the foetal drama from a closer look at land-diving as well as bungee-jumping. In order to test this, I first studied thirty newspaper articles (mostly from the period 1990-92) in which either the observation or the perception of bungee-jumpers was described. I am not a trained psychoanalyst, but I regard it as significant that the same fantasies and symbols seemed to characterise almost every article. Therefore I have changed my mind in the meantime and no longer believe that the elastic band for instance, that is not fastened around the waist, but to the feet, is only accidentally named the umbilical cord. A list of metaphors describing the impressions of one of these jumps can now receive additional meaning if interpreted as a fantasy of a previously experienced birth.
... a thrill grips you, first at your hairs and ears, so you fall headfirst ... a thick rubbercord swings upon his body like a mighty navel-string ... my last contact to the real world, to real life ... umbilical cord ... I'm falling down ... I'm falling headfirst into the void ... it's too much, time doesn't, images don't exist, I do not exist at all, nothing that can be remembered, then comes the scream, I don't want it, my body cries, it cries out from me, I hear my cry like the cry of a stranger. I'm strange and very far away from myself ... my own voice seems strange to me, unreal ... primal scream ... feeling no ground under the feet ... new horizons in sight ... plop, not the slightest idea of up or down, I have left this world long before and will never return, than I lie on my back, fidget, struggle, the last convulsion, the most exciting one can imagine ... the longest seconds of my life ... until two helpers put him on a mattress and arrange the navel ... the cord brings the young lady back into life ... it seems familiar to me ... once again life starts ... slowly the ecstasy grows feeble ...
In comparison to the original articles on bungee-jumping, this shows no clear connection to bungee-jumping at all. These extracts only make up around 1 % of the complete volume of the texts and communicate more of a muddled picture, but exactly the picture one would expect according to DeMause's model. None of the articles mention the foetal drama, the pre- and perinatal psychology or anything of the sort and the jump is nowhere described as a conscious repetition of one's own birth. In spite of this, there is a noticeable suggestion of terms and feelings which can be connected to birth in a general way. The actual bungee-jump has no physical connection to birth but there seems to be a strong mental connection here. Upon stress the brain seems to compare new sensations with older experiences. If in the first instance nothing is found, it possibly primary memories such as birth are stirred. Only in emotional descriptions of the bungee-experiences the strong subconscious relation to birth turns up. Because in my opinion the birth-related perceptions of all new-borns are dominated by sensorial impressions and feelings and not by objective-logical insight. After already having started this examination, I made a jump myself. My personal memories are mainly emotional. For me Bungee-jumping is strongly characterised by anxiety, paralysis, temporary trance and later hectic unrest. Even two hours later I could hardly sit still for three minutes at a time. A strong heartbeat and hyperventilation would be the technical description of what happens to me when I am reminded of the dive. But I'm not certain about how much the texts that I had read before affected my feelings concerning the jump. A metaphor such as "umbilical cord" does not seem strange anymore and I too could develop a few other pictures in my fantasy. Whoever wants to know more about the emotions during a bungee-jump, can get the best observations by making one's own jump. Even though the subject is still fascinating for me, I'm not constantly yearning for another jump. I would like to comment on two passages from the articles, which fascinated me a lot. Often a scream is mentioned in connection with the jump. Two authors also describe how they experienced this screaming.
1.) ... then comes the scream. I don't want it, my body cries, it cries out from me. I hear my cry like the cry of a stranger ...
2.) ... my own voice seems strange to me, unreal. I want to put the experience into words, but I am unable ...
These observations are hardly the product of a possible blood-clot in the ears or some other malfunctions that might occur during whip-lash. The breaking during a bungee-jump is not a sudden jerk, as often supposed, but the shock is strongly absorbed by the elastic cord. The acceleration and braking ratios in an average big dipper can be judged as much higher. The authors do not say that they suddenly became hard of hearing or lost their hearing, they rather relate the observation of their own voices. At first I could not explain this picture of a strange voice. As soon as I began to view bungee-jumping as a repetition of birth, a conclusive way of explanation arose. The first experience of the individual voice when screaming occurs after birth. The term strange describes a certain confusion concerning the first instance the own voice is heard, which seems plausible to me and supports DeMause's theory.
Recent articles in daily and weekly papers are concerned more about technicalities. The emotional experience is blended into the background. As already mentioned there are a lot of references to screaming. Nowadays there are even bungee-championships, where the divers try to perform certain numbers of aerial manoeuvres like the high-divers. While watching a TV-show of such an event I did not hear any screams. It seems as if bungee is starting to get more cultivated. Further away from its rough and wild roots towards a more civilised and pleasant form.
But how does this relate to land-diving?
When I started examining land-diving, I obviously allowed myself to be deterred through an incorrect idea of the matter. The fact that I could not find any material on this subject which had been written before 1950 led me to the idea that it might only be an imitation of military paratrooper training. During the second world war, enormous military installations were set up on individual islands of present-day Vanuatu. On the island of Espiritu Santo (a neighbouring island of Pentecost) a military base with landing strips, movie theatres, warehouses, harbours, dry-locks, hospitals, cantinas, bars, radio and radar stations was installed in only 9-12 months. 1944 the crew in this base is supposed to have consisted of up to 100,000 men. During the course of the war, a training center for the allied air forces was set up. There are certain exercises at the beginning of paratrooper training which have a startling similarity to the land-diving ritual. In these the soldiers are required to jump from high wooden towers, with only a line attached to them. On the island of Tanna the contacts between the native people and the military forces were not without consequences. The John-Frum Cult is still active there today, whose members imitate different military parades of various arms of the service. Although there is a report from a native of Espiritu Santo, who thought a god-like creature had floated down to earth after seeing a paratrooper for the first time , I'm quite sure that even after the inhabitants of Pentecost had witnessed plane crashes on their coast and have had similar experiences, this had not led them to the invention of the land-diving ritual. Also in the meantime, I have found a description of the custom dating from 1926 , which proves that it had been exercised since before the second world war.
Unfortunately, this material that I gained access to is of a completely different nature than the bungee articles. I had to pay special attention to three elements in order to find out if similar backgrounds can be found in these texts.
1. Some of the details of the texts - mainly in French or English - could have lost their clarity during translation.
2. Only one author had written about his own jump. All other authors are merely passive observers. (Margaret Jollys records must be seen as an exception. She stayed in the village Bunlap on many occasions and was regarded as a member of the tribe by the natives. During this time she took an active part in the social activities of the community and was also a participant in one of these rituals. She had to take a passive roll in the ritual like all women of the tribe. They are neither allowed to participate in the building of the scaffold nor are they allowed to jump from it).
3. The texts are mostly of scientific standard frequently quoting from other sources. Although this makes it easier to discern between the authors individual observations and hear-say, the tendency to repeat the given canon as precisely as possible seems to impede an emotional way of expressing one's self. Of course there is also the possibility that the specific use of words in the bungee-texts has been deliberately copied, but a more emotionalised way of expression is more usual found in the tabloid papers. Scientific literature usually endeavours a more or less unified and objective mode of expression.
Land-diving is brought into connection with a legend, from which the earliest available version is as follows:
The legend of this native feast tells of a man married to a woman, who is afraid of conjugal duties and who soon flees into hiding into the bush. The man sets out to look for his wife. The woman realised that she would be discovered sometime and she tried to think something up to wreck her husband. After she was discovered, she climbed into the treetop of a coconut palm. Her husband asked her to climb down and return to the marital hut. The woman didn't move. The man then started to climb the tree himself so as to force his wife down. She had already tied a liana to her feet and the palm tree and lets him climb up. When she saw that he had nearly reached her, she drops herself. The man follows her, but while she is held by the lianas tied to the tree, he is shattered on the ground.
After telling a version of the story, most of the men add: "But men have learnt women's tricks and now we jump from the tower and they dance underneath." Judging by this additional statement, the essential reason for the men of Bunlap to continue with this ritual is the conquering and repeating of a task which in an earlier conflict a woman had already conquered alone. As already mentioned, the land-diving ritual is called gol by the natives. The word gol also means "body". The tower from which they jump is called tare be gol or "the whole body". Singular wood planks are called sirintam or "ribs", which hold the tower's skeleton, lon de gol or "the inner body", together. A spirit is supposed to breathe life into the tower during the building phase whose presence can be made out through crackling sounds of the wood or through the men's temporarily racing heartbeats. The individual levels where the jumping platforms are attached are named corresponding to various parts of the body, for instance head, eye, shoulder, stomach, knee, or shin. Certain wooden poles of the diving boards are called penis and vaginal lips. Only one author comments on the name for the lianas: airi, which he translates into French as corde tabou. The term taboo goes back to the Polynesian word tupua, which also means "menstruation". And if the word menstruation" is replaced by the word "female blood", which is the main element of menstruation, one can easily find a connection between the "female blood-cord" and the umbilical cord. In another respect, the gol also has a connection to a successful vegetable harvest (e.g. yams). In my opinion, the actual connection is not an agricultural fertility ritual, but rather in a jump out of a body. The symbolism of this jump becomes even clearer when it is taken into account, that only nowadays do paediatricians favour a reclining position for child-birth. Almost all other native cultures utilise a vertical position of the mother, in which she kneels, squats or even stands completely upright while giving birth, so that the baby could actually fall onto the ground. The dropping and being held in a gol-jump could also be the definite repetition of an individual earlier experience, i.e. the primal jump during birth.
An account similar to the gol-legend is connected with the circumcision of boys on the island of Pentecost.
A woman was married to a man, Wahbo, and this woman was afraid of her husband. She was very scared of him because his penis was too long. She did not love her husband. She fled into the bush a long way away from him. She told him, 'You make love to me and it makes me feel sick'. And this woman stayed a long time in the bush, and Wahbo searched for his wife in the bush.
And the woman devised a trick for her husband to make his penis shorter. She took a piece of bamboo and sharpened it. She then went and climbed an almond tree and sat in its branches. Her husband searched for her in the bush and eventually found her. He said to her, 'How I am coming to get you'. And he thought, 'How am I going to make love to her?' He was standing on the ground. Then he realised, 'Oh, I am going to send my penis up to her. I will make love to her up there'. And the woman saw the penis coming, and she cut it with the bamboo knife, and it fell to the ground. And Wahbo cried. But his wife said to him. 'Don't cry, I like it like that. When it is too long, I am afraid of it.
Margaret Jolly remarked that the circumcision of boys had much less to do with feminine sexual enjoyment or male bodily hygiene than with masculine representation of fertility and social reproduction. The fact that biological motherhood can only occur with a woman is clouded out by the idea of a collective fatherhood. The female giving birth to children is covered up by male rebirthing, e.g. circumcision or other rites of passage whenever the tribal men transform the young males into newly created men, who also receive new names and are taught the language of the elders, and thereby learn to speak again. Such an appropriation of birth as a specifically female capability is definitely also of the purpose of justifying and maintaining a display of male dominance inside the community. But in the foetal drama model, the motivational power to perform rituals comes from the despairing attempt to suppress traumatic memories and does not require a connection with the suppression of women. Another interesting comment on the relationship between the sexes in South Sea cultures comes from Paul Hambruch. This researcher resided in the South Pacific in the early 20th century and was of the opinion that women of these community are often much more strongly connected with the oral-history of the tribe. He remarked in his field-study that although all of the tribal members knew the basis or key words of wellknown myths, only few or even just one of them could tell the stories in the full context or with all of the details. Whenever the male interviewees were not sure about the details of a certain answer, they would often go to the old women of the tribe to get new information and then come back. The missionary Tattevin recorded many other legends which were told to him on Pentecost. One of them is much more detailed than the ones already mentioned. It contains a tree, an argument between a man and a woman, a vine or liana and a knife. In a society whose written language is not yet fully developed, natural phenomena, for example knowledge on the course of birth, can be just as well preserved in narrations passed on from generation to generation. There is most certainly a great interest in recording information concerning the many difficulties which can occur during pregnancy, some of which can be life-threatening for the mother. If the symbols from the three legends of Pentecost are put together, one can easily interpret them as parallel to the important details of the way pregnancy takes place in South Sea cultures.
Birth is always preceded by a time of labour pains. When the labour starts (in legends: there is quarrelling, fighting, tears), the women leave their houses, go into the bush or special women's houses usually sited at the fringe of the village (flight to a tree or into the bush). Exactly at the peak of the pain (when men are the most threatening or when the woman is halfway there) the child falls to the ground (the woman drops from a tree, while still being held by a liana). There is the cutting of the umbilical cord (the cutting of the root or penis) with a sharp-edged bamboo-, shell- or stone-tool (bamboo- or stone-knife). A short time later the afterbirth follows, looking like a bloody piece of meat (the shattered man after falling to the ground). Afterwards the woman and her child return to the village (the woman, who insisted on carrying the child returns to the village).
Rites of passage are not only performed by men on their sons, but also in many cultures by women on their daughters. In these cases it can mean female circumcision, but it does not necessarily mean that the sexual organs are altered. Sometimes "only" the backs of the girls are decorated with scars. I assume from this that such ceremonies are performed by both men and women to ease unconscious, birth-related anxieties, which also holds true for the recounting of legends, in which these anxieties do not amount to nothing. Aside from the continual performance of community rituals, the collection of helpful guidelines for birth might have been an even more paramount reason for gathering such narratives. The older tribal women's stronger knowledge of the legends, which Hambruch noticed, could also be clarified by their roll as an assistant or midwife during a birth. Statements on the reviving effects of bungee-jumping and gol-jumping can be found in both cases. The men of Pentecost report a heightened level of consciousness and extol the beneficial elements of land-diving. It alleviates the pains and troubles brought on during the past rainy season, it can break a fever and make the skin of a man healthy and radiant. But in order to benefit from this therapy older men are not too fond of jumping themselves. Modern methods of examination confirm similar effects. Reports have been published in medical journals on the bodily effects of bungee-jumping on hormone levels and other substances. The feelings during the preparation, decision and completion of a jump were compared with those that occur during the course of a psychotherapy. The result implies that the jumper continues to maintain a heightened self-esteem for weeks after the jump.
After finding that bungee- and gol-jumping are in accord with DeMause' model, I studied collections of legends and fairytales whether the motif of a connection between heaven and earth in earlier times could be found. This connection, e.g. a tree, a string, a chain, a rope, a red thread and so forth is to be destroyed during or after a "Fall of Man". Due to the amount of material I found, I have not yet managed a systematic approach. Nevertheless a widespread coexistence of such legends and diving-rituals seems to stand out. I would like to point out just a few spectacular examples.
In Mesoamerica we hear of a birth-tree enfolded by snakes, that symbolise the stars and clouds. There are also men who dive from a 60 ft high pole after attaching themselves with ropes .
A Tibetan belief tells of a string between heaven and earth, that was destroyed and thereby brought death to earth. Young men in Tibet used to exercise a kind of rope-sliding, whereby they travelled about 1,500 ft downwards .
In Africa we hear of a snake connecting heaven and earth, sometimes showing itself as a rainbow. Also known is the hammock-dance, where a dancer climbs into a hammock, that's spanned 20-30 ft above ground.
In Asia and the Pacific Area many heavenly gods are reported to have been connected with a tree or string. There are also many swinging rituals . In Bangkok an 80 ft high swing is used. On some pacific islands the swinging movements are performed on steep cliffs.
In North America it is told that a tree root connected heaven and earth. An old woman mourning her grandchild tore it apart. And there we have the "Sun-Dance", where a one end of a rope is attached to a totem pole and a medicine man attaches the other end with a barbed hook in the chest muscle of a young man. The man then tries to fall in trance and move away so as to tear the hooks out of the chest .
In India exists a story of how Buddha cut himself apart under a tree to prove his divinity and put himself together again during rebirth. There we have the hook-swinging, where young men are tied to a revolving crossbeam on a 30 ft tower. In earlier days the men are supposed to have been hung up with hooks attached to their back muscles.
Download the complete text