Indonesia: Expedition in Forgotten Lands by the Iris Foundation
WHERE WE LEARN THAT IT IS BETTER TO TAKE A BOULET
WHAT TO RETURN A WHALE
July 30, 2015
We sail at night to reach the village Lamalera on the island of Lembata. Here we have been whaling for several generations. The sea is very rough and the docking is sporty with the waves that throw us on the black sand, we must jump quickly from the tender.
On the beach, the palm leaf boat sheds are almost all filled with their beautiful boat. Only three left this morning, including one with a "ball", that is to say a tourist. On the other hand, many small boats have left and will return to the sail with a dozen fish each, trolled. Skinny peach, a sign of the times?
The whaling boats are relatively small, about 15-20 m long, compared to the whales which are probably as big if not more. Bamboos worked with a harpoon launcher are stored on the boats. The iron harpoons are connected to the boat with a rope because once they have been planted in the whale by the harpooner who usually jumps on his back, the beast must not be allowed to escape. Many accidents occur during this traditional fishing. The bow of the boats bears a protective snake design, symbol of speed and sagacity in the attack.
The atmosphere is a bit heavy. The men are lying near the boats doing nothing. Women and children sell all kinds of souvenirs, ikats , whale tooth rings, whale bones, whale vertebrae, sperm whale teeth, whale oil, various shells including sea urchins, turtle baskets, sugar palm baskets ... Kids ask for candy or money. Few smiles. There is clearly a discomfort in this village where the traditional fishing activity is on the way out and where tourism brings money in a much easier way.
In the middle of the beach on a small promontory, stands a blue chapel. Whale bones are placed in front of the door on the small square. Inside their Patron Saint, Saint Peter, with the key to paradise in one hand and a harpoon in the other, opposite a Holy Virgin.
The former harpooners retrain, one draws whaling scenes, a second manufactures scale models of boats, a third is a miller, a fourth tries to teach his son who already has a kid how to craft boat (hand chignole, hammer and wood chisels, no electricity).
Lamalera, the whale hunters
My name is Matthias, I am a harpooner of whales, when the day comes, I take to the sea trying to see a jet far away which would indicate the presence of a whale.
I live in Lamalera on the island of Lembata and with my fishing companions, we fight the biggest creatures on the planet every day.
There is an old great harpooner of 82 years, Stanis Prason who naively paints the scares of the sea and these creatures.
Another respected 55-year-old harpooner, worn out by all this fighting, builds models of whaling boats.
We have always been in the presence of whale bones when we were children, it was our games. Now our mothers are still worried about us going out to sea to hunt the animal.
In the center of the beach near our shelters, where we take great care of our boats, the Virgin and Saint-Pierre, our patron saint receives our devotions and prayers before departure.
On August 18, 2013, 8 members of our Lamarela tribe disappeared without a trace after a harpooned killer whale dragged their canoe to the bottom. 4 of the 12 hunters present managed to swim to shore, but their companions sank with the fragile boat, which the harpooned orca dragged behind before diving.
For the villagers, the fact that 8 of them disappeared without leaving traces remains a mystery.
However, searches were carried out by members of the tribe and the local police, to no avail.
No body was found.
We looked for these men everywhere. We only hunt these whales to feed our families. It is sad that we have lost these people who were only doing their job.
Together, we kill an average of a dozen sperm whales a year. This highly artisanal hunt is both very dangerous and cruel, both for men and for cetaceans.
In this fight, their chances are equal. The victims are often numerous. The powerful tail of a sperm whale can easily spray the frail canoes.
On the whale side, death is terrible, inflicted by hemorrhage after the victim was pierced with a thousand knives and pierced with spears. But also in this way that the orcas manage to overcome the huge sperm whales, by snatching pieces of flesh from them and harassing them for hours.
Traditions are lost. In the past, killing a large cetacean was accompanied by rites and all kinds of taboos. It was forbidden to kill blue whales, because one of them would once have saved an ancestor of Lamalera.
Only sperm whales and pilot whales could be eaten. Today, sperm whales are scarce. Dolphins are therefore chased. And orcas.
Which is a big mistake. Because orcas also hunt. They are even excellent killers. There is every reason to believe that if the bodies of these men have disappeared forever, it is because they have been dismembered, even eaten, undoubtedly from the concerted action of an entire tribe, that of the orca attacked. .
Previously, each year, we hunted 30 whales, the booty was shared in the village, that was enough, flesh, oil, amber which serves as a repellent in the gardens for animals.
Now some foreigners, tourists are interested in us. "whale hunters".
We offer them sea trips with fictional harpoon demonstrations.
Very often, they prefer to go to the killing. Yesterday a Chinese had for his "safari" a tiger shark, today a French cameraman had his dolphin.
We are asking 200,000 rupees for a sea trip.
Our wives and mothers try to improve daily life and weave ikats to sell them to tourists.