Whaling tradition in Lamalera

Visited in 2012 and 2015

We crossed the island Lembata from Lewoleba to Lamalera by car, it took us 4 hours. The roads were in a bad state, at that time the development of the infrastructure was very poor. Lamalera is a whaling community, Kotekelema = whale in Lamalera language.

We arrived after sunset and checked in at the home stay of Abel Beding. We talked all night with him. Later that night we were joined by his son Rafael and local fisherman.

Abel started his home stay in the mid-70’s. He was the head of the village for 10 years. During that time P. Arnoldus Dupon, a Dutch priest, was working in Lamalera. He supported Abel to build his home stay, supporting the local community to develop tourism activities. P. Arnoldus lived in Lamalera till he passed away in the ’90s. We visited his grave at the local cemetery. It is local custom that community members build their tomb during life, as to prepare for when it is their time to depart this world. According to local belief the spirits rest at two islands close to Alor.

I asked Rafael to share information about whaling, am trying to understand their tradition. This is what he told me …. According to Rafael 300 years ago migrating fisherman founded this community. Three tribes – Blikololong, Bataona and Lewo Tukan – they came from Sulawesi and luhut Maluku Utaria. Life in the village revolves around whaling, migrating whales pass in front of the village, Sperm whales, Orca and Blue whales, the latter not being hunted because they consider the Blue whale as a friend. A legend tells about a sinking boat, a Blue whale rescued the fishermen and brought them ashore safely. Whale hunting is done with traditional wooden prahu – Tena. The boat builder is called Atamole / Labaktilo. The boat holds maximum 12 men – Meing – with one man at the front – the Lamafa – and one assistant – the Breung Alep. The captain – Lamauri – at the rudder. The man standing at the front is the one who holds the spear – Leke (bamboo) + Tale Kave (point and rope) = Tempuling (in Bahase Indonesia the set of spear, metal and rope).

In the village 18 men hold the spear. This task is handed over from father to son, unless the son has moved away, then a person from another family is chosen. The Lamafa is a man of standing, a good and courageous person. To kill an Orca means luck. The catch is equally shared by all in the village. It is also shared with other communities on the island.

According to Rafael the village respects conservation, not hunting baby whales and not hunting aggressive whales. According to local beliefs the tradition revolves around three things, the boat, the traditional house and the whale. The hunt is dangerous and safety depends on exact timing. It is teamwork. The Lamafa and the Breung Alep need to coordinate every move. As soon as the whale is within reach, the Lamafa jumps of the boat as to add force to the spear, the Breung Alep is responsible for the rope attached to the spear; it must not entangled a person on board. The other boats approach to jointly bring the whale to shore. This might take one day and night. According to local beliefs, when an accident occurs during whaling, the cause is said to be an unbalance in the individual’s family situation. There are many legends about the whales. One story tells about the origin of whales. Buffalo’s came from the mountains, went into the water and changed into whales. Buffalo which were too slow to enter the water turned into the stones along the shore. These stones are worshipped in ceremonies.

Early morning went to see the Tena, were shown around by two Lamafa, explaining about the spear and techniques. Fish is dried on the Blapa, a wooden structure to hang the catch.

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After two days returned by boat to Lewoleba – following the coast – I think it took us about 3 hours

In 2015 I visited Lamalera again to evaluate Flores Homestay Network and for development of Creative Economy. Visiting a local artist Guru Lasan Bataona. His inspiration is based on whaling and religion. His art is made with whale bones, paintings with bone inlay and paintings on whale Vertebrae. Admiring Lamalera Ikat. Alfonsa inviting ladies from Lamalera to visit Lepo Lorun Weaving Cooperation.

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2012 trip travelled with Zoe Pastorfield, Elivia Shaw and Loys Datang. Elivia was filming for Eco Flores. Alwine van Heemstra filmed earlier during Eco Flores Conference I in Labuan Bajo September 2012. Alwine compiled all film material and this video is the result

2015 trip travelled with Eco Flores stakeholders

Creative Economy Development: Alfonsa Horeng, Ilse Gobang. Responsible Tourism Development: Oyan Kristian. Education: Nikolaus Salo. HIV-AIDS: Willy So Wasa. Waste Management: Susilowati Koopman. DJEmiel: documenting the trip.

This is an 8 sec video at the beach in Lamalera in 2012