Lamafa - The world's last traditional whale hunters

Lamalera’s Lamafa – Papa Manuel

Manuel Toba Bataona (Papa Manuel) – Lost at Sea

With my 54 years I’m still being excited for every „Ba Leo“ there is. Fortunately, I’m able to pay off all education costs for my 6 wonderful children, 3 boys and 3 girls, by fishing and whaling. Some villagers, me included, have already learned that loans cause other problems, so we prefer staying away from the debt trap. A few bad catches, and we would fall behind on our payments and slide deeper into deficit. It puts unhealthy pressure on us while hunting. Thus we prefer to earn little, step by step, it lets us sleep better.

1999 I rised from the status of a ordinary sailor to a Lamafa. One of my boys will be taking my place soon. Dodi Bataona, 26 years old, joins the conversation; „I currently study English Language in Kupang (Timor), but aim to come back to Lamalera after accomplishing my studies. I have high hopes that I can proof my bravery and talent to my father’s crew, so that I can take his position and pursue the tradition of whaling.“ – Papa Manuel chuckles; „perhaps he might just help pushing the boat to sea..”

Lamafa - The world\'s last traditional whale hunters

Sailor’s yarn

The courage is not given to everyone, as there are rough days out there. 9.3.1994 I and my crew got dragged from a whale as far as Timor which is roughly 100 Kilometers away from Lamalera. Whales can take hours to tire, even after being speared by multiple harpoons. So you might be dragged along at full speed for several hours, or in our case for more than a day. Once our sacred rope „Leo“ is adjusted to the whale you’re not allowed to let go – Because you would reject to take what the ancestors offered you. But the day that followed we’ve decided to cut the rope to finally find ourselves stranded for 5 days somewhere in the Savu Sea without any food or water. We were praying for rain, and guess what, the third night it started to rain, so we were folding our hands and drank directly from the sky. Oh, we had been so hungry so that we ate our shirts to feel full. It’s obvious, this must have happened because at the time of our departure there was an unsolved issue between the two neighboring villages Lamalera A and Lamalera B. However, we were surely aware, that God might call us to heaven, and we had been ready to accept our destiny. By otherworldly luck, a passenger boat sighted us after 5 days and brought us to the city of Kupang. Nevertheless, the following day we went out hunting again!