LAMALERA - The Whale Hunter Village

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With our fingers pointing our finger to the map, my husband and I decided to visit Lembata Island after we finished our journey in Larantuka where the ritual of Semana Santa left a sweet memory in our heart. We packed our backpacks and continued our adventure. To be honest I have never heard of the island of Lembata, I am more familiar with Alor Island. However, the island took my attention when my husband told me that in one of the villages in Lembata Island there is one called Lamalera which is the only village in the world who hunts sperm whale traditionally.
With a Rp 25.000 ticket we made our way to Lembata Island's port, Lewoleba, with a wooden boat, from Larantuka. The port is placed in between mountains which easily gives you the "love at first sight" impression.

Lewoleba is the perfect transit town for those who wants to visit Lamalera. As we arrived to our hostel in Lewoleba, we met 2 couples from France who were relaxing in front of their room. They just got back from Lamalera and spent 5 days there. From our little chit chat with them, we received many useful information on how we can go to Lamalera and they also recommended us places to stay. They warned us to have good health as the journey would take 5-6 hours even if it is just 50km. Well, ok bring it on then! :)


Around 12 o'clock in the afternoon, the 3/4 bus which looks like a van, came to pick us up in front of the place we were staying. The driver with his thick mustache smiled and greeted us then invited us inside his vehicle while asking if we had any luggage. I left our clothes-filled backpacks at the place we were staying in Lewoleba, I thought it would be more efficient and easy as we would be returning there after our Lamelera trip. As usual, the transport in NTT has a habit of picking up all of its passengers, passing by the terminal every once in a while, hoping that there would be more passengers. Not only passengers that are picked up, the driver also acted like a postman as he took packages from Lewoleba to Lamalera. With extra care, he tied the packages which are mostly harvests from the local farmers.


It wasn't easy travelling 50 km in 5 hours, every once in a while I took deep breaths from my mouth and nose, this was a crazy journey with such a horrible road, barely suitable to drive. To add, the road was in a zig-zag motion which added my pain and I stopped counting how many times I had to adjust my seat. I relentlessly cursed the local government for not being able to fix this terrible road. How could they not fix this 50km road and continue to make their people suffer for their lack of attention. Just try to analyze yourself, how can the economics of these people increase if the road, which is their most essential help, is wrecked. For sure, when rain comes this road will be paralyzed. I was uncontrollably irritated, not knowing who to complain.
However the NTT people are known to be patient, even with this crazy road, the driver kept calm and was so relaxed that he started singing-along the song coming from his radio.
Every once in a while, the vehicle had to stop as it was blocked by a bamboo tree. The driver, helped by one of the passengers, had to get down to cut down the branches of the tree which blocked the road. The nightmare of this journey finally ended as we were welcomed by the view of Savu sea from above and with the clear weather, we also could see a group of big islands which was Timor Timur.


Entering Lamalera village, we were welcomed by a row of skull bone from whales, orca and dolphins. As soon as I arrived at the homestay, in its backyard there were other animals like pigs, goats and chickens roaming freely, a sight of the spine bone of dolphins as well as its head being dried was seen. To be honest, a love and hate collide in this town. Love because of its spectacular sight and the hospitality of its locals, but hate for the fact that they hunt and consume these almost extinct mammals, as if there are no other fish in the seas. Slowly but sure, I tried to collect all my positive thoughts, as a traveller I realized I shouldn't judge the ritual and tradition of a culture without understanding its background.


In the second morning, my husband and I were not awaken by the sound of a rooster but rather by shouts "Baleoooo....Baleooooo...Baleooo...Baleoooo" coming from every corner as well as the sound of dozens of people rushing somewhere. A little bit annoyed and curious, I tried to find out what was going on out there. "Is it true, they must've have seen a whale?" said my husband. The daughter of the homestay said yes to the question, according to her one of the fishermen saw the Sperm Whale from afar and thus the noise. Baleo is Whale in their language, which originally Balaenoptera Musculus in Latin.
The fishermen then gathered and made their way to their boats and took it to the beach. 16 fishermen's boats, each with around 12 men inside, turned on their machine and went to the place of the Sperm Whale.
I waited patiently, the backyard of my homestay faced strategically to the sea and the fishermen village, so I could easily see all the activities. Those macho fishermen have left the village for 4 hours and there were no signs of them coming back. After 5 hours, one by one the boat returned, this time they have failed to catch this giant mammal. In my heart I was thankful the whale could escape, but seeing the faces of the fishermen who sadly returned their homes, I was a little taken aback. They too had a family to feed. Like it or not, even if it is strange, but whales are their idea of luxurious food.


The tradition of hunting and consuming whales is not new for them, it is a tradition which started in the 16th century, then who is to blame? Lamalera is freed from the sanction of the international world as the tradition of whale hunting is done traditionally and is for consumption of its own people. Practically, when a whale approaches, the lamafa , the harpoonist jumps off the boat and stabs the whale with a tempuling, a handmade harpoon. All the equipments are traditional and handmade, no modern attached, except the machine of their wooden boat.
They also only hunt the male sperm whale and leave the female, pregnant and the young whale alone. How they find out in one second the sex of the whale? No idea, probably because their experiences.
The tourist can join in one of the boats who will go out to hunt the whale with a charge of Rp 100.000 per person. If you decided to do so, bring a brave heart as it is one of the bloodiest hunts with the world's biggest mammal. Face to face with the whale and be part of the heart-stopping action of a lamafa.

If the fishermen is lucky to catch its prey, as soon as they get back to the village, the whale will be split equally between the villagers, the division takes into account the social strata of each person. The person who owns the boat usually gets more portion as well as the fisherman who managed to stab the heart of the whale.