Lamafa - The world's last traditional whale hunters

Lamafa – Hunting the ancestor’s gift – Visual Story

The clans inhabiting the tiny village of Lamalera, on the sunbaked Lembata island (Nusa Tenggara Timur Province) have been spearing and landing sperm whales by hand for at least six centuries. Their artisan subsistence whaling has overcome heavy missionary influence, the Japanese occupation of Lembata during World War II and a well-established Catholic education system. And because the Lamalerans have been doing this since the dawn of time, they carry on, even with a permission from the Indonesian government – as long as they hunt for their own consumption and not for commercial sale. Although many Lamalerans have been well educated over the past decades, most families pursue subsistence lifestyles, with only minor exchange of currency. Conservationists (like WWF) are incessantly prodding Indonesian governmentals, demanding stricter regulations for hunting practices within the Savu seascape and the Ombai Strait; a migratory bottleneck of regional importance. So far, the environmental activists have limited impact, due to sluggish governmental actions and nonetheless the withstanding Lamaleran clans.

For we are all killers, on land and on sea; Bonapartes and Sharks included. It is not, perhaps, entirely because the whale is so excessively unctuous that landsmen seem to regard the eating of him with abhorrence; that appears to result, in some way, from the consideration before mentioned: i.e. that a man should eat a newly murdered thing of the sea, and eat it too by its own light. But no doubt the first man that ever murdered an ox was regarded as murderer; perhaps he was hung; and if he had been put on his trial by oxen, he certainly would have been; and he certainly deserved it if any murderer does. Herman Melville, author of Moby-Dick

This photo reportage has been featured by Hakai  (Canada) |  Ouside (USA) |  Scuba Diver Australasia (Singapore)  |  The Diplomat (Japan)  |  Dailymail (UK)

In Brief

The Hunt

The Lamafa

Lamalera’s Youth