Cruising

From Lembata to Flores, the Sunda Islands…

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Nusa Tenggara… In Bahasa Indonesia, the country’s official language, this expression refers to the province of the ‘Lesser’ Sunda Islands. ‘Lesser’ only as opposed to the much bigger ‘Greater’ islands, such as Sumatra, Java or Kalimantan (formerly Borneo). Nusa Tenggara includes West Timor, the Solor and Alor archipelagos, the islands of Flores, Rinca, Komodo, Sumbawa and Lombok. Indonesia is the biggest archipelago in the world, with just over 17,000 islands! A country whose area stretches over 5,000 km from east to west and 1,700 km from north to south. 240 million inhabitants, the majority of whom are Muslim, speak 250 different dialects, apart from Bahasa Indonesia.

After a night at sea, sailing north, day broke over the south coast of the island of Lembata, to the east of Flores. We approached the small haven of Lamalera, a surprising whaling village, where the sperm whales and pilot whales are still hunted, from May to October. With simple bamboo harpoons, equipped with an iron point, from wooden whalers around ten meters long, propelled by oars and equipped with an auxiliary sail. Catches are limited to around twenty per year, and taking into account the traditional means used, the village escapes the ban relating to this form of fishing, decreed by the International Whaling Commission. In Lamalera, the whole village is involved with whale fishing, and has been since the 15th century. The south coast of the Sunda Islands is on the migratory route of the whales travelling from the Indian Ocean to the Pacific, at that time of the year. An age-old fishing technique is still used in Lamalera; when a whaler has been able to approach an animal to within harpoon range, the harpooner chooses the best moment to take a run up, at the front of the boat, and jump, with the harpoon in his hand, onto the animal’s back, so as to plunge the iron point as deep as possible into the flesh… When the catch is sizeable, it is shared between all the families in the village. Part of the whale meat is dried to be stored, and it is this form that the villagers of Lamalera use to obtain fruit and vegetables from the neighboring villages in the island’s interior, through a barter system which is also several centuries old.

But over the past few years, worry has started to appear in the village. Modification of the migratory routes of the big animals, or more certainly climate change and the harmful consequences of the illegal industrial fishing (Taiwanese and Japanese mainly), the fact remains that sperm whales are becoming rarer on the south coast of Lembata. For the last whaling village in Indonesia, it’s survival…

In the early morning mist, we caught sight of the little black sand and pebble creek at the foot of a high rocky cliff covered in dense vegetation. We could have been in the Azores…especially as the island of Flores was not far away! Along the beach, around twenty shelters with palm leaf roofs covered boats, oars, harpoons, nets and ...

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