Lamalera Whale Hunters
of Indonesia

Go to Picture Section
The images are available on a rights managed basis and can be licensed directly from the photographer (see below) for any use, including advertising, corporate, decorative, editorial, presentations, promotional and web use. In principle, for commercial purposes no use of these images will be allowed just in exchange of credits or links.
Travelogue: Flores to Lamalera


Lamalera is a village which is perched on the rocky slopes of an active volcano on the southern coast of the island of Lembata, in Nusa Tenggara Timur in eastern Indonesia. An anonymous Portuguese document of 1624 describes the islanders as hunting whales with harpoons for their oil, and implies that they collected and sold ambergris. This report confirms that whaling took place in the waters of the Suva Sea at least two centuries before the appearance of American and English whaling ships at the beginning of the nineteenth century.

(....) The Christian Mission has been in place in the community for a hundred years, schools have been established and a training workshop teaches carpentry. It is a fishing village in a region where most communities support themselves by agriculture. Lamalera has very little productive land, so the villagers have to fish in order to survive. Their preferred quarry is sperm whale. Catching sperm whale with hand-thrown harpoons from small open boats powered by muscle and palm-leaf sail is no easy task, and the hunt is by no means uneven between man and whale. The tail flukes of a whale can smash the timbers of the boats and many boats are temporarily disabled by their prey. Harpooners have been disabled and killed. But the attraction of the whale is its size. The flesh of the whale (and shark and manta ray) is cut into strips and sun dried in the village. The meat is then carried to small markets where it is bartered with mountain villagers. One strip of dried fish or meat is equivalent to twelve ears of maize, twelve bananas, twelve pieces of dried sweet potatoes, twelve sections of sugar cane, or twelve sirih peppers plus twelve pinang nuts.

Commercial whaling is banned throughout much of the world, but subsistence whaling is permitted by International Whaling Commission regulations in Alaska, the USA, the USSR and Greenland. Indonesia is not, however, a signatory to the IWC. Seven whales were caught in Lamalera in 1987.

Provisionary text from:
Film-maker: John Blake
Anthropologist: Robert Barnes

The first map shows the position of the Islands of Nusa Tenggara, also known as the Lesser Sunda Islands, in Indonesia. The second map shows the island of Lembata. Lamalera is on the south coast. A four hour jeep ride from Lewoleba, the capital on the north coast, on the worst road in the world.


    Required reading:

Sea Hunters of Indonesia
R.H. Barnes
ISBN: 019828070X
Order at:

Film: Fuji Velvia 50 ISO (RVP)
Camera's: Leica M6HM with 24, 35
and 90 mm ASPH lenses.
Ricoh GR1, 28 mm, for sea pictures (did not survive the trip) and a digital Canon S40 in an underwater house (did survive!)

Background: Ikat weaving from Lamalera, showing stylized manta rays.
All pictures in this website are by Sander van Hulsenbeek, 2002. Unauthorized use prohibited.
When interested, please contact the author by
Email .

This page updated: January 30, 2003

Pictures with Leica & Canon
Pictures of Mongolia, Argentina, Syria and Cuba