Active volcanoes and creatures reminiscent of the dinosaurs, the tiny Sunda Islands are like something from a bygone age. Indeed, this group of islands situated east of the Indonesian island of Java, remained undiscovered for a surprising number of years.
The village of Lamalera is situated in the south of the island, an area that has little fertile land that is suitable for agriculture. The people depend entirely on fishing and they are renowned for the fact that they are the last whale hunters of the subtropics that continue to hunt with harpoons. The first records of the region’s stout-hearted whale hunters date back to the 17th century.
Due to the development of more accurate and lethal weapons, plus well organized ships, some species of whale are now almost extinct. But on the island of Lembata, the people do not hunt the whale for commercial reasons but because it is the basis of their survival as the lava stone on the island makes agriculture almost impossible.
The oil that was produced by the whale fat was once an important fuel and was used to illuminate entire cities! The gut of a sperm whale contains a valuable substance, ambergris. Up to 400 kilograms of this have been found in a single sperm whale and it was once used for the production of perfume, although fresh ambergris has an unpleasant smell.
The constant battle with the sharks and sperm whales off the coast of Lembatas is not without risk, but the men have no choice for there is no other way of hunting in this region. They continue the heritage of their legendary ancestors and age old traditions are still held in high esteem in this extraordinary village.
The active volcanoes and legendary lizards of Komodo, as well as the existence of the courageous whale hunters of the Sunda, are truly evocative of a colorful and dramatic bygone age.