Restricted by stony, volcanic soil, agriculture on the Solor’s is limited. Most islanders rely on the sea to provide for them. Whaling provides the major source of income for the Muslim villages of Lamakera on Solor and Lamalera on Lembata, the only remaining whaling villages in Indonesia.
Between the months of May and October, sperm and pilot whales enter the Ombai Strait separating the archipelago from Timor, to breed. For the whale hunters of Lamakera and Lamalera, this is a time of great reward but also great hazard. Hunting from small wooden boats nothing more than a bamboo-shafted harpoon, the battle between man and whale can go either way.
A visit to Lamakera or Lamalera may not be to everyone’s taste but if you have the stomach for it, it’s a rare opportunity to experience living history. For the villagers, whaling is a sacred activity and an integral part of their subsistence lifestyles. Every whale is divided among the villagers according to tradition. The crew, the boat owner, boat builder, sail maker, rope keeper and harpoon maker all receive a share. The whale meat is dried and consumed throughout the year, the blubber melted down to make oil for lamps.
Whilst most westerner’s abhor whaling in general, the practise of traditional whale hunting is as fascinating as it is confronting. With around twenty whales taken a year, visitors are unlikely to witness the bloody butchery that follows a successful whale hunt but a stroll through either village leaves one in no doubt that Lamakera and Lamalera are indeed whaling villages. ‘Pelendang,’ the sacred, carved whaling boats dot the shoreline, whale meat hangs from wooden frames drying the sunshine, fins are piled up. There also, the littered remains of dolphins, manta rays, whale shark that have also succumbed to the hunters harpoon.
Lamakera is located on the eastern tip of Solor Island and is accessible by boat from Larantuka, Adonara and Lembata. There’s no commercial accommodation on Solor but you should be able to find a local family to host you overnight for a small, but much appreciated charge. Otherwise, you can always camp out; remembering to ask permission from the village headman as a courtesy. In either case you should bring your own bedding and provisions.
Lamalera, on the south coast of Lembata can be accessed from Lewoleba, the island’s main town, by ojek or public truck which departs daily from the town market. The one-way trip takes about 3hrs, longer by truck. Depending how long you spend looking around, you may need to spend the night at one of four homestays in the village.