EAST FLORES AND ITS UNUSUAL FESTIVALS AND WHALE HUNTS

ENDE

Ende (five hours from Bajawa) is a port and one of the larger cities on Flores with several active volcanos nearby. Gunung Meja rises from near the airport. Gunung Iya lies on a promontory south of the city. The December 1992 earthquake caused extensive damage here. Sights include a waterfront, ikat markets. the house that Sukarno lived in when he was exiled here. Hiking up Kelimuti, the volcano with three lakes that change color, is the one of main reasons people stop in Ende.

During the struggle for Indonesian independence, the first Indonesian President,Sukarno, was exiled by the Dutch colonial government to Ende from 1934 to 1938. Upon his arrival here, Sukarno did not have any place to stay. After staying in a house near Port Ende, he then looked for a rented house facing east. Sukarno then found a Dutch house occupied by Haji Abdulah Ambuwaru. In this house, Sukarno lived for four years. During his exile here, Sukarno painted and wrote several plays such as Dokter Setan (Satanic Doctor). In 1954, when Sukarno became the Indonesian President, he officially inaugurated this house as a museum. This house is now called Rumah Sukarno.

Sukarno’s house has two bedrooms, a living room and an office. In the back of the house is a room previously used by Sukarno for meditation and several rooms for maids. In the back yard is a well, which is still working today. You can see the interior of Sukarno’s house including its rooms, well, items previously used by Sukarno (plates, bed, and kerosene lamp), and Sukarno’s painting made in 1935 called Pura Bali (Balinese Temple). When you arrive at Sukarno’s house in the late afternoon, on Sunday, or on a public holiday, you can ask help from the owner of a house across the street to call the security guard to fetch you by motorbike for Rp10,000 (about 1 USD).

Accommodation, Restaurants and Getting to Ende

Ende has many hotels and inns. Hotel Iklas (0381-21695) is usually for backpackers while Hotel Mentari (0381-21997) is for tourists. In addition, Hotel Dwi Putri, Safari, and Flores are also available. Istana Bambu Restaurant on Pasar Street or on Kemakmuran Street offers various types of Chinese, Western and Indonesian foods. The Hotels Iklas and Mentari also have their own restaurants selling various types of food. If you like to eat Padang food, there are many Padang restaurants in this city.

Getting Around: The airport and seaport in Ende are located near the city center. From these two places, you can take a bemo (city transportation). In addition, you can also take a rented car easily found in front of the hotel Flores Sare, the seaport and airport when ships or airplanes arrive.

Getting There: Flight schedules and routes to Ende are not always fixed. As of the mid 2010s, Transnusa had a flight scheduled everyday from Kupang to Ende (Transnusa Ende: 0381-24222). In addition, Merpati has four flights a week (Merpati Ende: 0381-21355). Flights in and out Lubuan Bajo, which is a 13 hour bus ride away, is more reliable. Ende is the busiest port in the southern part of Flores island. Motorboats to many cities such as Kupang also have an unreliable schedules. It is therefore best for you to ask information from ASDP (0381-22007). The Pelni ship from Bali and Lombok also makes a stop over in Ende every two weeks. Land transportation to western and eastern cities in Flores is more reliable, Ende has two inter-city bus stations, namely Wolowona for buses to eastern cities such as Moni, Maumere and Larantuka; and Ndao for buses to western cities such as Bajawa, Ruteng and Labuan Bajo.

Kelimutu

Kelimutu (66 kilometers from Ende and 83 kilometers from Maumere) is one of the an awesome places in Indonesia. It is a 1600-meter-high volcano with three lakes inside the crater. Each lake is a different color and the colors are changing all the time. When Dutch geologists discovered the craters in 1914, the colors were red, blue and white, In the 1960s one lake was blue, one was reddish brown and the other was like milk coffee. In the late 1990s the colors were maroon, black and blue. Currently they are green, blue and black. The colors are related to the mineral content of the lakes and the springs that feed.

When I was at Kelimutu in the late the 1980s one lake was dark blue, one was chocolate colored and one was an opaque turquoise with a layer of yellow sulphur outlining its perimeter. Little bits of sulphur floated around in the middle as well. Most people stay below the volcano and visit the lakes as part of a day trip, taking a minibus most of the way on mountain’s windy, dirt road. But walked up and back and camped overnight on top of a platform that overlooked all three lakes. It was wonderful having a place like this all to ourselves, watching the sunset and sunrise from there. In the middle day the place can get swarmed with school groups and the like. A barren moonscape surrounds the lakes.

Kelimutu is the centerpiece of Mt. Kelimutu National Park, the smallest of the six national parks in Bali and the Nusa Tenggara islands. Kelimutu, meaning ‘the boiling lake’. Local believe the three lakes are resting place of departed souls. The first European to lay eyes on the lakes was a Dutchman named Van Such Telen, who say them in 1915. Kelimutu gained global fame after Y. Bouman wrote about the bizarre color-changing lakes in 1929..

Unlike the Blue Lake in Mt. Gambier, South Australia, that changes color from blue to cold steel grey within a predictable period, or Lake Yudamari in Mt. Nakadake, in Japan, that changes from blue-green to green, the Kelimutu lakes are unpredictable as to when and what color they will change into. Sometimes, the colors are blue, green, and black, and some other times they turn to white, red, and blue. The last time a traveler saw them, one was dark brown, just like a pond of chocolate. Previously, the east lake was red and the middle lake was blue.

The lakes change colors due to presence of subaqueous fumaroles. Scientists believe that these are the result of minor phreatic eruptions in ancient times. Phreatic, or steam-blast, eruptions occurs when magma heats ground or surface water. The extreme temperature of the magma causes near-instantaneous evaporation to steam, resulting in an explosion of steam, water, ash, rock, and volcanic bombs The Kelimute lakes are of particular interest to geologists since the three lakes are of different colors but at the same place. At local ranger in the national park said that the different colors is due to chemical reactions of materials contained in the lake, triggered by volcanic gaseous activities. Locals believe that when the lakes change color it is because someone died or did something evil.

Kelimutu National Park’s highest point is Mt. Kelibara at 1,731 meters (5,679 feet) high. Mt. Kelimutu is the second highest at 1,690 meters (5,544 feet) high. The national park protects 19 endemic and endangered animals, among which are the Floresian punai (Treron floris), Wallacea owl (Otus silvicola), Floresian kancilan (Pachycephala nudigula), Floresian eagle (Spizeatus floris), and Timorese tesia (Tesia everetti). There are also endemic mice, deer, porcupines and the legendary luwak or civet (Pharadoxurus hermaphroditus) that gained its fame for the expensive coffee it produces.

Hiking at Kelimutu

A hike or day trip to the lakes Kelimutu is one reason many people come to Flores in the first place. The Kelimutu area is surrounded by forests and bush. Beside pine trees, there are also ferns, casuarinas, red wood and edelweiss. Pine forests grow well on this height of the Mt. Kelimutu. The other part of the mountain is dry with highly unstable sand and soil. The locals believe that Mt. Kelimutu is sacred and a source of fertility to the lands nearby. Several parts of the national park are restricted due to geothermal instability. Trekking is best around the safe areas between Moni and Mt. Kelimutu. The track, which can be driven in a study vehicle, is a challenging 12-kilometer rocky dirt and graven road path that begin on the maid road in a place called Moni.

Most visitors come up the road in a minibus or hired car. From the parking lot one has to walk 1.5 kilometers. then climb 127 steps to the edge of the crater, from where one has a panoramic view of the three lakes. Climbing to the viewpoint from the parking takes about 30 minutes on foot. It is also possible to hike up the road from Moni. That takes about four hours one way. There are precipitous trails around one of the crates that drop into he lakes. Hotels in Mono organize vehicle that reach the summit for sunrise. . The lakes are most stunning in bright sunlight.

Moni is a small rural town and base for backpackers visiting Kelimutu. The ascent up is easy road walking if you take the road with nice views of the Flores countryside. From Moni to Kelimutu there is also a path which is shorter than the car access route. The westernmost lake is named Tiwu Ata Mbupu, meaning ‘the lake of old people’. The middle one is called Tiwu Nuwa Muri Koo Fai, or ‘the lake for young men and maiden’. The easternmost is called Tiwu Ata Polo, or ‘the lake for evils spirits’. Visitors can only walk around Lake Kelimutu but not all areas can be explored because some are dangerous and therefore restricted.

If you hiking from Moni bring enough and make sure you have plenty of drinking water as water is water is in short supply on the ascent to the lakes. If you are going in a vehicle then food is not so necessary as the hiking is only an hour or so. Ginger tea sellers are available at the top of the mountain where people flock there to watch the sunrise Kelimutu is usually blanketed by thick fog. Travelers, however, go very early in the morning to catch the sunrise before the clouds roll in. Trekkers begin their walk up as early as 3.30 am. The best time to visit Kelimutu is in July and August. Book your hotels early as possible if you are coming then, as people tend to reserve a room one or two months in advance.

Accommodation and Restaurants at Kelimuti

Moni, the base for trips to Kelimutu, is home to a number of cheap backpacker hotels, bungalows and losmen. If you want something nice you will have to stay in Maumere, three hours away, or Ende, two hours away with its Grand Wista Hotel. There are a few restaurants in Moni. Simple warungs for locals are also available in Moni’s local market, but very limited to local needs.. Arwanti Restaurant and Bintang Restaurant have been recommended. The following are some of the accommodation found in the Kelimutu area.

Kelimutu Crater Lakes Ecolodge is built in 2010 and is only a 20 minutes drive to Kelimutu National Park. Hot shower is available as well as western toilet. It is an environmentally conscious hotel. Book it via several hotel directory websites. So far, this is the best resort and accommodation in the village. Honeymooners and backpackers share a universal idea about the place. Desa Koanara, Kelimutu, Ende, Tel. +62 361 7474 205 / 7474 204, Mobile: +62 813 39776 232, E mail: reservation@ecolodgesindonesia.com; Website: ecolodgesindonesia.com

Watugana bungalow is a decent guesthouse suitable for backpackers or budget travelers. Its 5 rooms are located on the first floor at the sublevel of the building, and 2 others (the newly built ones) on the upper level. There is very simple shower in each room, together with mosquito-net bed. The price ranges from IDR 150,000 to IDR 250,000. To book the rooms, you must be sure that John, the local keeper of the bungalow, has confirmed the availability. Sometimes, in Moni, the faster person will get the room although you booked one an hour or a day before, Tel. +62 813 3916 7408 (John).

Bintang Lodge has only one room at the moment, but the interior is fresh and new. The room is air-conditioned and the shower is cold and hot. It is part of the café named Bintang Café. The room is tagged for IDR 250,000 per night.

Hotel Arwanti is at the middle of the accommodation area in Moni. The not-so-impressive shower is a cold one with 2 rooms in a spacious wooden bungalow. The bungalows are part of the Arwanti Café and Restaurant run by a local man named Andre.

Hotel Flores Sare is physically the tallest as it is often a place for meetings and workshops on the top floor. The unattended lobby is strangely impressive with lots of Jesus statues. The rooms, however, are not that impressive and you must ask the staff to clean the rooms before you check in. Flores Sare is close to Kelimutu Crater Lake Ecolodge an can be reached at +62 381 21075

Sao Ria Wisata (Local Government-run bungalows): The setting is excellent, overlooking the lush garden and vegetable plantation. Ask the staff to clean the facilities prior to checking in.

Getting There: Koanara village, in the Wolowaru sub-district is closest to Mt. Kelimutu, and is about 66 kilometers from the town of Ende, or 83 kilometers from Maumere. Moni is the closest small town, lying at the foot of Mount Kelimutu. It is the gate to Lake Kelimutu. The distance between Moni and Kelimutu is 15 kilometers.

Buses and bemos between Ende and Maumere pass Moni. They call it BIS KAYU or oto kol, the wooden pick-up truck. From there, you must walk 30 minutes along the mountain side. You can take an ojek, a motorbike taxi, car or public transportation to take you to a parking lot before Kelimutu’s peak.

Maumere

Maumere (six hours by bus from Ende) is the largest city in Flores and the place where many travelers begin or end their journey in Flores. The main attraction here is the diving and snorkeling. The reefs here are famous because the coral comes in so many colors. Flores in fact got its name from 17th century Portuguese sailors who were so astounded by the colors they saw in the sea that they decided to call the island "Flores," which is Portuguese for “flower.” Maumere unfortunately was devastated by a magnitude-7.8 earthquake and tsunami in 1992. The tsunami waves did a number on the coral garden and the recovery has been steady but slow.

Capital of the district of Sikka on the eastern coast of Flores Island, Maumere is blessed with a beautiful landscape of hills and mountains complemented with clear green and blue ocean. Waiara Beach has traditionally been the main jumping off point for the snorkeling and diving. Located at the narrowest part of the island, from Maumere due south to near the town Nita at Koting village, one can see as far as the Flores Sea to the north and the Savu Sea to the Indian Ocean to its southern horizon.

Before the Dutch colonial merchants arrived, Maumere was known as Sikka Alok or Sikka Kesik. Here, traders from China, Bugis, and Makassar often came to trade with the locals. These traders often stayed for days near the seaport called Waidoko. With the arrival of the Dutch, they eventually built government offices in Sikka and gave new names to the area such as Maunori, Mautenda, Mauwaru, Maurole, Mauponggo, and obviously Maumere in Sikka.

Since the majority of its people are Catholic, the town’s existence cannot be separated from the church of Larantuka. Catholicism was first introduced in 1566 by two missionaries from Dominica named P.Joao Bautista da Fortalezza and Simao da Madre de Deos. They initially started their mission in Paga, a small town about 45 kilometers west of Maumere and were sent by P.Antonio Cruzz from the town of Larantuka. Every year congregations from Maumere head to Larantuka to join in the Semana Santa Easter Holy Week Ritual.

Deadly Flores Earthquake and Tsunami of 1992

In December 1992, a 7.8-magnitude earthquake and the waves generated by it killed at least 2,500 people and destroyed thousands of buildings on the island of Flores about 1,000 kilometers east of Bali. It was the largest and also the deadliest earthquake in 1992. [Source: Wikipedia]

The quake struck at around 5:30am local times and was followed by several serious aftershocks. Of the 2,500 people killed or missing, 1,490 were at Maumere and 700 were on Babi. More than 500 people were injured and 90,000 were left homeless. Nineteen people were killed and 130 houses were destroyed on Kalaotoa. Damage was assessed at exceeding US$100 million. Approximately 90 percent of the buildings were destroyed at Maumere, the hardest hit town, by the earthquake and ensuing tsunami while 50 to 80 percent of the structures on Flores were damaged or destroyed. Electricity in the general area and the port of Maumere was shut down. Maumere's hospital was completely destroyed, and patients were treated in tents. Damage also occurred on Sumba and Alor.

The tsunami on Flores ran inland as far as 300 meters with wave heights of 25 meters reported. The Indonesian government sent rescue and relief missions to earthquake-stricken areas and declared the earthquake a national disaster. The Indonesian air force provided assistance, mostly transporting medicine and clothing. Malaria and influenza rose significantly after the disaster. Babi Island survivors were evacuated since all the houses on the island were demolished. International relief efforts were hindered by the onset of the rainy season.

Sights in and Around Maumere

Today, Maumere is a starting point to see the Three-Coloured Lakes on Mt. Kelimutu on the way to Ende or to attend the Easter celebrations in Larantuka. It can also be used to reach Lembata, Labuan Bajo, and Komodo National Park but these places are at least 15 hours by bus or boat.. The village of Sikka, some 30 kilometers from Maumere is the center of weaving in this area. Here visitors can watch, on request, the complete intricate process of ikat-weaving, including dying the threats with natural colors. Another village known for its weaving is Watublapi, which distinguishes itself through the use of symbolic motifs such as lizards, horses, birds and geometrical patterns.

While you are in Maumere, you might want to explore the beautiful landscape of Maumere around Waiara Beach and the Kambing Island and Pangabatang Island. Waiterang Beach is definitely a must if you are in Maumere. Located only 31 kilometers from the heart of the town, the beach is renowned among divers, and also has the certified PADI diving course. Koka Beach, 45 kilometers west of Maumere has the legendary white sand which is as soft as powder. Not too far from the beach, you can find the traditional village of Mau Lo’o with all its unique traditional houses.

Donot forget to visit the uniqe Bikon Blewut Museum located in the campus of Sekolah Tinggi Filsafat Katholik Ledalero, a Catholic priest seminary, six kilometers. south of Maumere. Here you can find a large assortment of Flores history in artefacts collected by the priests. There are are rare ikat cloths, stone age tools, musical instruments, ceramics from China, traditional weapons, and fossil bones from the stegodon, an extinct elephant-like animals a mammoth which inhabited from between 400,000 — 10,000 BC. The Museum opens Mondays to Saturdays in the mornings from 07.00 to 13.00 hrs.

Maumere used to be a favorite snorkeling and diving area, made famous by the Sao Wisata Resort built by Flores’ own hero, Frans Seda. Unfortunately, the 1992 tsunami davastated parts of the sea and the city. Before that, Maumere was considered by many as the true illustration of “Flores” or Flower of the East Nusa Tenggara Archipelago. After nearly two decades, the town is now reviving, back to its former beauty with the newly renovated Frans Seda Airport (formerly called Wai Oti Airport).

Accommodation, Restaurants and Getting to Maumere

Maumere has several cozy inns and hotels. Some of these are located near the coastline of Maumere. Here are some of the hotels you can try: 1) Sylvia Hotel in Jalan Gajah Madal 2) Permah Sari Hotel in Jl. Sudirman No.1 Maumere; 3) Adi Darma Hotel in Jl. R.E. Martadhinata, Kalabahi.

With access to wide open seas, Maumere is obviously seafood haven. An abundance of fish and other sea creatures are caught and served fresh every day. For a special treat, try the kasuami, the typical coastal dish of Eastern Indonesia popular in Ambon and Maluku Islands. Here, you can also find this dish in several restaurants.

Flights to Maumere are available from Bali and Kupang. Transnusa Airlines serves flights between Bali and Maumere three times a week in planes with a seating capacity of 82. Batavia Air runs connecting flights from Surabaya-Bali-Kupang-Maumere four days a week on Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Sunday. Other Airlines that also serve flights to Maumere are Merpati Nusantara and Garuda Indonesia. Buses and bemos connect Maumere with places like Kelimutu (Moni), Ende and Labuan Bajo.

Larantuka: Home of the ‘Semana Santa’ Festival

Larantuka (eastern Flores, three or four hours by bus from Maumere) is a sleepy town that comes alive once a year during Holy Week when thousands of pilgrims throng the town to follow the unique Semana Santa ceremonies and the town then literally bursts at the seams. The capital of the District of East Flores, Larantuka has a long history and once was a hive of activities when in the 16th century, Portuguese traders came here to load their vessels with precious sandalwood, which is now largely gone from Flores. In the local Lamaholot language “Larantuka” means “Meeting Point,” because it is the meeting place for people from the surrounding Adonara, Lembata and Solor islands as well as the people from Flores mainland. The town has merged Lamaholot, Portuguese and Malay traditions brought by merchants.

The first Portuguese ship is said to have arrived here in 1556 at the nearby Solor island near Larantuka. But soon the Portuguese were defeated by the Dutch, and so they retreated to Larantuka. The predominantly Catholic Portuguese intermarried with the local population, and gradually Portuguese culture, traditions and faith, were adopted by the local elite. The King of Larantuka at the time, Ola Ado Bala the 11th, changed his name to Don Fransisco Ola Ado Bala Diaz Viera Deo Godinho, or better known as Don Fransisco Ola Ado Bala DVG. And as the king changed his name, everyone followed suit. The 13 tribes living in Larantuka then also changed name, the Lamaholot people became the Fernandez tribe, the De Rosari, Da Costa, Da Santo, Gonzales, Ribeiru, Skera and the De Ornay.

In the 19th century the Portuguese sold its ruling rights in Flores to the Dutch. Consequently, the booming sandalwood trade declined and now the local inhabitants mostly live on subsistence agriculture. Today, Larantuka’s landmark is its Cathedral called Reinha Rosari. The cathedral together with the two chapels known as Capela Tuam Ana (Chapel of Jesus Christ) and Capela Tuan Ma (Mother Mary Chapel) are the center of the yearly Easter processions, when the statues of Jesus and Mary, originally brought here by the Portuguese are carried from the chapels to the cathedral

This area is also famous for its ikat-weaving. Besides its meticulous and arduous process, the locally named kwatek kinge cloth is unique among the Flores fine ikat cloths in that it has sewn-in small seashells into the design. This cloth is produced in the remote village of Lewokluo some 26 kilometers. from Larantuka, and is chiefly used in ceremonial functions. Unfortunately there are very few women left today who still own the knowledge and the skill to manufacture these beautiful intricate materials.

Accommodation and Getting to Larantuka

Larantuka has mostly modest but clean accommodations, among these are: 1) The Sunrise Hotel, Jl. Sukarno-Hatta, Weri, Larantuka, Flores; 2) Hotel Fortuna, Jl. Basuki Rachmat No. 171, Larantuka, Flores; 3) ASA Hotel larantuka, Jl. Sukarno-Hatta,Weri,Larantuka, Flores, Tel. +62383 2325018, E mail: asahotel.larantuka@gmail.com ; Website/blog: /asahotel-larantuka.blogspot.com; Further east, on the island of Alor is the Alor Divers Eco Resort. Information on this resort can be found at alor-divers.com

Larantuka does not have a commercial airport. Therefore to get there you must take a flight from Jakarta or Bali to Maumere or Kupang, and travel to Larantuka. Maumere is linked by air to Kupang and Bali with regular flights. 3 airlines fly from here, Lion air and Merpati. All flights eventually end up in Bali, either via Kupang, Sumba or Labuan Bajo, so together there is at least 1 flight every day to Bali.

According to Travelfish: Larantuka is usually reached by a three- to four-hour bus or car ride from Maumere. The comfortable Travel vans that run in other areas of Flores don't come this far, so you'll have to take the local bus. These can be an interesting cultural experience, but can also be crowded to the brim, and the drivers sometimes have interesting notions of road safety.

A bus from or to Maumere will cost about 80,000 rupiah and can be caught either at the city bus terminal or from your hotel, where you will be deposited on the side of the road with your bags. The bus terminal in Larantuka is far outside of town, and you will need a bemo to get to your hotel. Alternately, your bus may be heading for the town centre from the terminal; ask the driver.

True masochists can catch a local bus all the way to Bajawa from the Hotel Tresna. This costs about 100,000 and takes about 12 hours, give or take. It's also possible to take this bus to Ende. As with all travel in Flores, things are very fluid and you should always verify this information upon arrival. A private car and driver from Maumere will cost between 450,000 to 500,000 rupiah to make the journey. Stops at small villages along the way are possible if you go this route.

Lamalera on Lembata Island: Where People Still Hunt Whales with Hand Harpoons

Lembata (difficult to reach via bus and ferry from Maumere) is an island to the east of Flores in the Solor archipelago which contains the whaling village of Lamalera. During the whaling season from May to September the people from this town hunt whales using relatively small sail-paddle boats and hand thrown harpoons. Lamalera has only about 2,000 people. As of 1999, it still had no cars, roads, phones, electricity or television.

It is possible to go on a whale hunt if you pay enough, find the right guide or become friendly with the local people. If you are not into gory scenes, though, this hunt can be very disturbing. You may want to stay ashore. When you decide to go along in a boat led by a lamafa, you should be ready to endure all the risks. It is highly recommended, therefore, that you go along on a different boat, as the raging whale can be very deadly. Beware of the frenzy as you may lose your equipment, especially your cameras.

Hotel Puri in Lewoleba, the largest city and the capital of Lembata Island, is available for those who wish to visit Lamalera. The hotel is simple but decent enough as a getaway. Lewoleba jetty is nearby and you can take an Ojek for less than IDR 10,000 to the hotel. When you mention ‘bis’, literally means bus, the people will refer the term to wooden boat as a public transport. At restaurants and warung in town try to sample jagung titi, locally made corn chips. It is very special in Lembata, and made in Weienga Village. Observe how it is made and you will find traditional tools from ancient times. Corn is cropped from the local corn fields. Jagung titi is best served when hot with fish sauce made locally, called lawar. Get three cups of jagung titi for only IDR 10,000 and you already taste the ancient Lembata.

Getting There: Lembata Island is 190 kilometers north of Kupang, the capital city of East Nusa Tenggara. Loweleba is the largest city in Lembata Island, and perched at the southern coast of the island. To get to Lowelaba, fly or get to Maumere some how. From Maumere, go to Larantuka by bus. From Larantuka, the only way to go to Lamalera is by ferry crossing to Lewoleba which ply each day, or straight to Lamalera from Larantuka with a once-a-week ferry.

Whale Hunters of Lamalera and Their Boats

Whaling is still done in the village of Lamalera on Lembata, a harsh volcanic island near Flores, using traditional method that have been used for more than 500 years. The island is one of the few places left on earth where whaling is still allowed by international conservation groups because the local people rely on whale meat as a food source. [Source: Jeffrey Gettleman, Los Angeles Times, September 3, 1999, Fred Bruemmer. Natural History. October 2001]

About 150 or so hunters and 2,000 people live in Lamalera. The residents of the village believe they originated from an island to the north that was destroyed by a tsunami. Whaling and culture on Lamalera are intertwined. For centuries whale blubber was used as currency and oil taken from the blubber was used as cooking oil and as a light source. Even today it used to trade for basic provisions like salt and bananas.

The people of Lamalera are mostly Catholics who retain animist beliefs about the spirituality of the animals they hunt. They grow some manioc and corn but rely almost exclusively on their ocean hunts for food and sometimes to trade. They are thought to have originated on Lapan Bata, an island destroyed by a volcanic eruption.

About 15 boats are used for hunting. In the eyes of the Lamalera islander, their boats are sacred and immortal. The prow is painted with a snake that symbolizes the tsunami that destroyed their village and is outfit with a false keel keel that can easily be replaced as it is often damaged in rough landings. When boat is wrecked by a whale or through old age it is mourned like a human for two months, about the length of time it takes to build a new one.

The heavy, sturdy boats are about 10 meters long and two meters wide at the beam. A typical boat is made from eighteen palm trees with their root sections in the stern so that the life force of the boat flows towards the bows. Planks are shaped with adzes not bent to their proper curve and calked with palm fiber oakum and fastened with wooden pegs — not nails or screws — driven in with stone hammers. Carved crosspieces are fastened with rattan.

The huge rectangular sail of a boat is woven from leaves of the gebang plant and suspended from a 20-foot-high bamboo mast. Two large outriggers provide stability. Jutting out from the bow is a narrow, one-and-half-meter-long, bamboo -and-plank platform on which the harpooner stands. Some boats are particularly treasured. Some are said to be boats used to come from their original homeland that have been continuously repaired for hundreds of years.

Lamalera Whale Hunt

The whaling season lasts from May to October when whales gather to feed on abundant supplies of squid. Each boat carries a team of around a dozen men. The men use the sails to move around at sea, but when a whale is spotted the sails are lowered and the crew paddles like crazy to reach the whale

The whale hunters hunt all day, going out in the morning and returning in the evening. They go out everyday except Sunday (for religious reasons) and often return home empty handed. One of the greatest challenges they face is getting the boat out past the breakers and they often chant when they paddle. The search for whales begins when the mast is raised with a prayer. The crew scans the sea for blow holes of whales and the curved tips of manta ray wings.

The whalers kill the whales by jumping on the back of the whales and thrusting the harpoon deep into the whale. It is very dangerous but easier to get in a good shot using this technique. The harpooner usually rides the animal for short distance and then leaps onto an outrigger before making his way back to the boat,

Some whalers have drowned or lost arms or legs that got caught in the coils of the rope. In 1994, a wounded whale dragged two boats 300 kilometers to East Timor. The boats sank and their crew was rescued by a third boat which drifted for days before it was rescued by a passing ship.

The whalers use paddles chopped from trunks of palm trees. The harpoons are hammered from crude metal, usually rusted iron. There primary targets are sperm whales, which can reach a length of 20 meters and weigh 60 tons and can feed all 2,000 people on the island. Generally they avoid adult sperm whales and go after juvenile males, which are eight to 13 meters long. Pilot whales are sometimes caught. Baleen whales are regarded as taboo.

When a whale is caught, the whalers chant. “We do not hunt for fun. We desperately need your meat to live, to feed our hungry children.” The hunters took a peak of 57 whales in 1960. After that their catch dropped to about 10 whales a year the islanders believe because they sold one of their sacred whale skulls to some tourists. Catches began to pick up after 1990. These days between 15 and 25 whales are caught each year. The meat is divided in accordance with a customary law that dates back to the 15th century. The blubber s melted for use on oil.

Lamalera Manta Ray Hunt

Whalers from the village of Lamalera on Lembata, a harsh volcanic island near Flores in Indonesia hunt manta rays by jumping on their backs. Describing this Jeffrey Gettleman wrote in Los Angeles Times, "The fishermen stroked across the water, scanning for signs of life. After hours of searching, one sinewy fisherman, Francise Bole Beding, saw a black fin pop through the surface...Paddlers yanked in their oars. Mr. Beding, a harpooner, scampered to the bow, a crude spear in his hands. He coiled himself, preparing to leap down onto the prey and drive harpoon deep into its flesh."

"The sight of a fin cutting through the water focused all minds on what swam below. Mr. Beding saw it was a manta ray, not a whale, and because the giant rays are swift swimmers, he had to attack quickly... Mr. Beding leaped. The rope tied to the end of his harpoon spooled out furiously. The boat careened to the side as the three-meter-wide manta tried to bolt, a harpoon driven deep into its back. Mr. Beding fought the fish in a cloud of red water until two men plunged overboard with heavy iron hooks to finish it off...The paddlers dragged the limp, 136-kilogram fish up on the deck. Mr Beding and the other men wriggled back into the boat."

Kedang

The Kedang live on the island of Lembata, which is east of Flores and north of Timor. Also known as the Edang, they are primarily slash and burn farmers who do a small amount of coastal fishing and raise a few animals. Most are Roman Catholics. Some are Muslims. A few retain their traditional beliefs. They are culturally similar to the Lamaholot who live to the west. [Source: Encyclopedia of World Cultures, East and Southeast Asia edited by Paul Hockings (G.K. Hall & Company, 1993) ~]

The Kedang have traditionally lived in bamboo houses with grass and palm leaf roofs oriented according to traditional religious beliefs. Maize and dry rice are the primary staple crops. Copra, tamarind and candlenuts are raised as cash crops. Many men leave their home island in search of work. ~

Marriages involve an elaborate series of exchanges set by social class seen as alliance builders. In the old days there was no marriage ceremony. Those today are in line with the customs of the Catholic or Islamic faiths. Gifts traditionally included elephant tusks, gongs and fine ikat cloth. Divorce is common among non-Catholics. In the old days children had their teeth blackened and filed as part of coming of age rituals. ~

The incorporation of traditional religion into Catholicism and Islam is reflected in the names for God: Moon-Sun, Great Sun, White Sun, Morning Star-Sun and Great Morning Star. Traditionally, the sun has been viewed as male and the Pleiades and the morning star is associated with divinity. In their belief system there are also guardian spirits, free spirits and witches.

In addition to Catholic and Muslim rituals, the Kedang also conduct special village purifying and agricultural ceremonies. Feasts are held at funerals and marriage presentations. On occasion rain-making ceremonies are held. After death, the Kedang believe, people go through a process of death and rebirth through levels of the universe and are briefly a fish before ascending to their place with God.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Indonesia Tourism website ( indonesia.travel ), Indonesia government websites, UNESCO, Wikipedia, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Japan News, Yomiuri Shimbun, Compton's Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Updated in August 2020

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