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Facts about Indonesia's whale hunting tradition

News Desk

The Jakarta Post

Jakarta  /  Sun, May 20, 2018  /  10:06 am
Facts about Indonesia's whale hunting tradition

Men in Lamalera village, Lembata regency, hunt for whales using harpoons. ( Amarillo/File)

Besides its mountains, Lembata regency in East Nusa Tenggara is known for its whale hunting tradition that has been passed down from one generation to another.

Apolonaris Mayan, head of culture and tourism from the regency administration, elaborated on facts about the tradition, starting from when it is carried out, as well as the species and number of whales that are hunted and what residents will do with the meat.

Hunting time

The Lembata waters are part of the pod’s migration routes, which usually occurs from May to October. During that period, people in Lembata begin the rituals by reading nature’s signs about when the whales will come. The locals, who are mostly Catholics, also hold Mass in the beginning of the hunt.

“It starts with a ceremony from April 29 to May 1 as the beginning of the procession,” said Apolonaris.

Locals will hunt the whales using traditional boats that hold 10 to 20 people and are equipped with harpoons. When a whale comes close, some of the participants will jump into the water and use the harpoon. They do not use nets.

“They don’t hunt whales every day,” Apolonaris told, adding that the hunting begins when the locals spot the whale’s spout.

Read also: Mountain festival to promote three Lembata peaks

Species and number of whales

Some institutions, including the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and the Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Ministry, once put this tradition in the spotlight as it was seen as potentially endangering the whales.

However, Apolonaris said not all whales are hunted here. They only hunt for sperm whales in limited amounts.

“We only catch one or two whales in each hunting period,” he told  

They also do not catch blue whales, as they believe the mammal is sacred, and pregnant whales.

“They know whether the whale is pregnant or not,” Apolonaris said.

Whale meat

People in Lembata hunt whales for economic reasons.

“Basically, people in Lembata cannot rely on farming, their only hope is the sea,” said Apolonaris.

Once the hunt is finished, the meat is shared among the hunt’s participants.

“Afterwards, they will share the meat with widows and orphans,” Apolonaris said. “The meat will be bartered with staple foods in the market.” (wir/wng)