Even though I was born and grown up in Bandung, but my parents always teach me anything about my hometown. Lamalera is a small village in the south of Lembata Island, East Nusa Tenggara. Not so many people know about this small village, especially if they are not from Flores. Lamalera becomes famous since the whale catching was captured on some of the media in Indonesia itself and abroad. Lamalera has a tradition to catch the whale in a very old-fashioned technique, using bamboo stick with knife called Tempuling. Lamalera is a village on the rocks, that’s why vegetables can not grow here, so the people here surrender their lives into the sea. People believe that whale is blessing from their ancestors so they can survive.
Back in the old times, they didn’t have any religion and they praised to their ancestors so that they can give life to them. After Father Bode came to Lamalera, all of the tradition were renewed and combined with Catholic tradition. Ever since that time, every adventure to the sea will be started with a mass on the beach, called Misa Leva on 1st May every year.
“Baleo… Baleo… Baleo” When you hear this shout that means there is a whale in the sea, so some Pledang will go to the sea to catch the whale. Each Pledang has one Lamafa or the guy who will stab the whale using tempuling. Only guys can go on the trip to the sea, but since some tourist want to see the catching process, then they allow women to go as well. Women have a role to be in charge in cooking the meat, so they will stay at home and wait for the time to cook.
As I mention before, all of the Pledang are made by wood, but last year 2015, the Central Government gave a few machine to help the people so they don’t have to paddle the boat. When I look at some boat with machines, I am disappointed because our ancestors have been keeping the tradition to remain as they were. Bapa Ula (One of the elders in Lamalera) said that all of the modernity that come to Lamalera have made our people to be more lazy. It’s true on this case and to other cases happen in Lamalera. We can see that some of the traditions are faded away from the whale catching tradition itself until life traditions like marriage and death tradition.When I was there for a short visit, I got luck to see one of the catch which is two dolphins. These two are a whale species. The boat maker is the one who has the right to share these dolphins. When they get a whale, they can share it with the whole village, but when they get only dolphins, they can only share with the people who went on a trip to catch dolphins. It should be shared fairly without any leftovers, even the intestine. It is scaring yet happy feeling to see them cutting and sharing dolphins. Kids usually will help to clean the meat and after that there will be some women who will bring the meat on top of their head (dijunjung). Since there is no icing process to freeze the meat, people will use traditional way so they can still have stock to eat. The meat and the skin usually will be cleaned and salted and after that they will be hanged so they can be dried from their oil. The oil from dolphins or whales is used for medicine and for lighting. The brain of dolphins is really good for our memory and health. People in Lamalera don’t have sophisticated ingredients when they cook. They only use salt, sometimes garlic and asam (sour fruit). The texture of fresh dolphin meat is almost the same like beef. The brain tastes like chicken’s liver. Sounds horrible for some of people when I tell them that I eat whales and dolphins. And yes, there are some pros and cons about whale catching tradition. A few years ago, Lamalera society won the case in the court in Indonesia. Once again, they don’t catch the preserved ones. They use traditional technique so the habitat is not damaged. They don’t catch in a huge number of whales. And they just want to conserve the tradition.
Moving on from the whale catching tradition to another tradition which is to lighten the candles. In Lamalera, there are some big family. When you look at their surname, you will know who are they. The first three big family which are also the eldest are Blikololong (mine), Lewotukan, and Bataona. Back in the old times they have their own roles in the community to keep the balance in the society. Every family has their own house where all of the rituals and traditions will be held. Since all of the people in Lamalera are Catholic, they run all of the tradition in a Catholic way. We believe that our ancestors live happily in heaven with God. So, we always pray through them. People believe that every candles that we light will bring our prayers closer to them. We can light the candles in their tomb or in Leta (a table for rituals equipment). Even when we are far away from Lamalera, we can always lighten a candle and pray for our ancestor. That is the way to communicate with them. We know and we believe that our name which usually coming from their names are a sign to always remember them.
This a-week-holiday in Lembata was spent with all of the goodbye, so I can go studying in their blessings. I will always remember to always lighten the candles for my hometown Lamalera and my ancestor, and especially for my dreams. Hopefully God will bless my journey.