‘Baleo, Baleo!’ the shout goes when potential targets are spotted in the waters off Lamalera. This is the last village on earth where humans still regularly hunt whales by hand, using bambooq-shafted harpoons. It’s a hazardous way of life that takes around 15 to 25 sperm whales from the ocean in an average year, a subsistence livelihood that conservation groups have a does not threaten sperm whale numbers (estimated at over a million worldwide).
Like characters from an Indonesian Moby Dick, the hard-scrabble men of Lamalera village on the south coast of Lembata hunt sperm and pilot whales using nothing more than bamboo harpoons (with iron warheads), wooden boats and prayer (see boxed text, opposite). Because of the small numbers of whales taken – around 15 to 25 a year – these hunters are exempt from the international ban on whaling, and their hazardous livelihood continues. The whal ing season runs from May to October, when the seas aren’t too rough.
Lamalera itself is a tiny, fascinating little village centred on a black-sand cove lined with 22 thatched boathouses where you’ll find oars, nets, harpoons and more than a little bit of whale bone. Local men will pose for pictures and allow you to watch them build and repair boats, and will deeply appreciate a pack of smokes. Homes arc around the beach and ramble up the steep hillside offer ing views of the deep-blue sea and migrating whales. And if there’s been a recent kill, bits of drying whale meat hang from the eaves.