A hard slog to Lamalera

My friend Kim Akerman Is an interesting guy. I told him we were visiting east Indonesia and he suggested we visit Lamalera village on Lembata Island. As I'd always loved the textiles from there I decided we'd give it a go . We jumped on the ferry to the solar archipelago after a great 2 week stay on Flores .The ferry was loaded Indonesian style ,till it only just floated ! The only other tourists were a couple of Italian doctors also heading to Lamalera . The ferry left port for the 5 hour crossing ,the scenery was amazing ,smoking volcanos on rugged dry islands ,deep clear water ,fish and dolphins





One of the doctors decided that if we caught a local boat from Adonara Island to Lamalera we would save having to spend the night in the north of the island ,and an 8 hour 4 WD  trip across to Lamalera . Wise thinking . We arrived at Adonara  after about 3 hours, young kids swam and jumped off the pier. They all treated us in the same manner, shouting F… you mister ! with middle fingers raised. We should have taken the message and stayed on the ferry but we got off . Our ferry disappeared into the distance as we startd to haggle for a boat. The people here were not happy, no one wanted to take us to Lembata . After a few hours of being surrounded by an angry mob we finally arranged a young guy to drive his fathers boat. The bay was full of boats, but of course ours was the worst. We headed off put putting our way into the unknown, catching tuna as we went for the skippers family. After about 3 hours we came to the western end of Lembata island and just stopped. For the next 5 hours we went nowhere except for a few spins in whirlpool eddies. The tide just roared through like a river. I asked the skipper how long? He said he didn't know he'd never been to Lamalera before. Great! The tide stopped and we were on our way again, the wind came up and so did the swell making life a bit wet to say the least.




2 hours later we arrived 50 meters off a sandy beach with a couple of huts. The captain threw the anchor in and turned to us , you go he said. The surf off the beach was at least head high, there was no way I was swimming in with 2 packs, no way ! we all said in unison. Anyway it turned out he was only suggesting a swim/ toilet  . We needed one after that, off again another 2 hours and we were finally at our destination with only a 3 meter swim in.



Lamalera is one of the few indigenous whaling operations still carrying on in a traditional way, they harpoon toothed whales only, sperm, killer and pilot whales as well as dolphins, sharks and manta rays. The people of Lamalera hunt from hand made wooden boats called pleading, harpoonists dive from a platform at the bow with a hand held harpoon. The village itself  was pretty small and had a distinct smell with one tiny shop that sold next to nothing. We stayed at a home stay on the hill with an amazing view of the coast line, being conservation minded we were not super keen to be part of a whale hunt, but being interested in traditional society's and anthropology this place was really cool.


        Lamalera Village from our homestay on the hill.



The history of the village  was amazing, more than 1000 years before the island they lived on sank in an earthquake 20 or so boats managed to get away they tried to resettle on many islands ,but no one would allow them to. Finally the people where the village now stands agreed to rent them the land this agreement is still in place. Lamalera is dry and hot, no rice can be grown so whale meat is traded for everything, people used to come from as far away as Timor to trade everything from vegetables to silver jewellery for fresh and dried meat.


   The food was classic, our daily diet consisted of  a small pilchard , 2 minute noodles, dried manta ray soup and as much black sperm whale jerky as you could eat. Yum! No Padang restaurants around here same thing 3 times a day 7 days a week.



            This is manta ray and whale that has been dried and  stored in the rafters.

It was divided between the local families. When they cut it down it hit the ground

and hundreds of insects went in all directions. Dinner tonight.


We supplemented our diet with beng bengs and tops (chocolate wafer bars) the only sweet things in town, actually some of the only food you could buy. We found some wonderful Ikat textiles but as they were expensive we only bought a few each. At the guest house there was a visitors book which I read ,one story by an American lady was amazing she went out whaling ,there was three boats they came across a pod of whales and they harpooned a bull from 2 boats, the whale went nuts as you would! And dived pulling both boats down to 20 or 30 feet under, then it surfaced and smashed the boats up. The American lady was on one of the boats , she had managed to get out during the dive the water was full of blood and quite a few sharks were in amongst the people, wrecked boats and thrashing whale. The third boat rescued the crews some with injuries and they limped home. Another reason not to go out.