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PHOTOVOICES Lamalera, Lembata Island


Whaling as a way of life: Launching Photovoices in Lamalera village


Photo by: Fransiskus Olla ©
Photo by: Tarsius Boli Haring ©
Click on the map above for a larger view.

The village of Lamalera lies on the island of Lembata, near the end of a string of islands that make up the eastern end of the Indonesian archipelago. But Lamalera’s insignificance on the map and its difficulty to reach belies its importance as one of the last true traditional whaling villages on earth.


Traditional Whaling

Lamalera’s rich oral history stretches back even earlier than 1410-–the year the people arrived on Lembata and began whaling in the Sawu Sea, a deep migratory channel for sperm whales and rich in other marine life. Here traditional whaling is carried out with a huge dose of bravery from small boats powered by oars and rattan sails. The most dangerous job is performed by the “Lamafa” who leaps off the boat with the grace of a ballet dancer and the strength of an Olympic diver, using his body to embed the harpoon in the whale.


Goals of Lamalera Photovoices

WWF-Indonesia, the Indonesian government and other NGOs are working together to designate the Sawu Sea as a Marine Protected Area. One of the important questions is how to balance protecting this unique traditional whaling culture of Lamalera with the need to conserve marine life in a world where our marine ecosystems are fast disappearing. WWF-Indonesia is committed to protecting the environment while at the same time engaging and listening to local communities and including their concerns and views into the decision-making process. Photovoices, as a public engagement tool to empower people through photography, has been working as a partner with WWF-Indonesia to provide visual community-based information directly from the people of Lamalera.


This cultural, environmental and economic context produced through Photovoices photograhs and stories will help WWF-Indonesia, other NGOs and the government develop and implement a sustainable Protected Area Management Plan that includes local knowledge, ideas and cultures.


The Photovocies Process in Lamalera

“Before, people from outside came to take pictures and we didn't know what they were for. But now we take our own pictures, and through them we learn much about our nature, culture and also created important information that we will leave for our next generation.”

~Fransiskus Use Bataona Clan Leader from Lamalera Village

Forty-four photographers, including men and women with a range of ages and social status, were provided cameras and training to document this unique whaling culture, not only the drama of the whale hunt but the rich adat (traditional) culture surrounding whaling. In addition, students in the middle school were provided with 6 cameras to share in order to get the views of the younger people in the village. The Photovoices school project was so successful that the Principal asked and received permission for Photovoices to become a permanent part of the curriculum. The cameras were donated by Photovoices to the Lamalera Middle School.


At the end of the Photovoices project and the celebratory closing exhibit, village officials and traditional leaders asked to extend the project—not to take more pictures—but to take time to get deeper stories about some of the 17,000 pictures produced by the project, to write down the stories and use Photovoices pictures and stories as a way to strengthen the culture and to reintroduce the ancient stories to the young people.


Lamalera Whalers Teach Scientists at Unique Meeting

In March, after the village leaders and traditional elders had used the Photovoices pictures to get deeper stories about the culture, an exciting and unique meeting took place in Bali with Phd marine biologists, one of the world’s leading sperm whale experts, leaders from WWF-Indonesia and others. The meeting was led entirely by the Lamalera people—village whalers, traditional elders as well as a woman and a young person-- who presented their pictures and stories behind the pictures with passion and skill and summarized their hopes for the future. The Lamalera people brought a harpoon which sat in the center of the meeting and sang ancient chants they said were being reintroduced into the culture because of the Photovoices project.


The Photovoices pictures and stories will be submitted by the people with summary information in a report to the government as part of a Lamalera Photovoices exhibit that will be held in September at the Culture Museum in Kupang, Timor.