Local series – off season

Couple of weeks ago I watched “The Cove”, a documentary about a place in Japan where dolphins are slaughtered using a very precise and efficient procedure. Somehow strange to head to Lamalera right after. Lamalera is a small village where locals hunt whales and dolphins, but hunting them here is not banned by any international commission. It is not banned since the hunters of Lamalera still do it in a traditional way, by using wooden poles and handmade steel harpoons, paddling hard to propel the heavy wooden boats .

It starts every May, and there is a whale hunt almost everyday in Lamalera. Then it stops when the rainy season starts again. Not all hunts are successful, only 15- 30 wales per year are taken. No engines while whaling, no guns, no sonars, no radars.  Just rowing boats and throwing harpoons . After couple of hours people of Lamalera eventually win, and the whale is dragged to the shore, where it is chopped and meat shared within all families in the community. It happen to be different. One time the boat was dragged by a whale, and it was dragged in Australian waters. A sperm whale or a pilot whale is the most common hunt, however orcas and others are taken from time to time. The only moment they stop the hunt is when a rare white whale approaches. If so, boats are turned back to the shore, and no hunt is starting until the white whale is gone.

We arrived a little early here, so no whale hunt is regularly done. Even so, occasionally, one whale is seen by the patrol boats and a hunt is started. I’ve been in one of the patrol boats but no whale has shown. Being in the middle of hundred of dolphins, which are whales in a way, the hunters did their job. The wooden pole and harpoon was thrown and, after couple hours, one dolphin was caught. Dolphins were chased for almost an hour, and they still look like they are playing kinda game with the boat. Jumping, swimming around , they seam not to fear . But still. Some pack instinct kept all of them one foot away from the harpooner.  At a moment the hunters were tired and almost abandoned the hunt. As they found a place full of sharks they tried their luck for catching one. But dolphins were back in the game, and the hunt resumed. Then one of them surrendered. A jump a bit too close to the boat, a spin in the air, and the human spring triggered. The Flipper figure pop up in my mind. For a moment I hoped that the harpooner will miss again, but back on the shore those kids waiting, kids that never seen Flipper series, were hoping the opposite. Their daily series is surviving , in a place where one dolphin surrenders and one community lives. But things are changing, and this is not necessary a good change.

It is morning and there is a strange silence in Lamalera. Is not because there is no sound, but the sounds are so different. People , carrying bags full of souvenirs are heading to an addhoc market. This is strange since we are the single white guys in town and we already have kinda reputation as bad buyers after negotiating too much for some craps and those 5 liter canisters of tuak . Guru Frans elucidate the mystery: a schooner carrying nine tourists is arriving today. The addhoc market is all for them. Over priced gadgets, bottles with whale oil, ikat, wooden whales and so took place of the regular tuak canisters and vegetables. For the right price the heavy traditional boats are lunched in the water, which is rare in off season, for demonstrations.

As the schooner left after the cultural encounter, things are going back to normal. Having a coffee in the evening with our friend here, he is pointing the three little lights far in the sea. “Pencuri” he says. “Thieves”. The three heavy ships are there since couple of months, illegally fishing tuna and other large fish. The captain of the fishing boats is foreigner. He is from a country where sea food is precious, but not the one in “The Cove”. The workers on the ships are Indonesians, from Bali maybe, and what’s strange, three large fishing boats like those are impossible to hide from regular sea police that patrols Lembata’s waters. Also four years ago , or so, the neighbors from Lamakera were bombing the waters of Lamalera. They were fishing tuna again, but the customer was not clearly known. Bombs and big fishing ships are noisy, the wales are not so many as in the past. And the rare white whale can not stop the change.

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4 comments to “Local series – off season”

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  1. Fascinating stories – I didn’t know you have it for writing. Maybe the places influence you in that direction, they touch your heart 🙂 … And fascinating places, people and customs, I envy you (in a nice way) !
    Where the hell are those huge backbones coming from ?
    Cheers!

  2. hehe, ya…the influence is still in me. The smell still triggers my appetite for hunting some big fish.
    The huge spine is from a sperm whale, their main chase. Some small ones are souvenirs from pilot whales, or the “big dolphins” – as they name them.

  3. cool!

    If you wanna pass by Manila when you decide to go home, I’ll have an empty room for friends from June onwards …

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