The Whale Beach
I wake up by the squawk of chickens. Before the breakfast, I gotta go to the beach. At 6:30 am I come through the gate of the Whale Beach. (I just made up the name. The base of the whale hunting, lined meats, piled bones ... I cannot find better name than that)
Oh, I've not described the process for coming to Lamalera yet. After I decided Flores Island as the destination, I tracked down on the map to east. Because the more I go to east, the more chance to meet Melanesian characters on the peoples face, I guessed. On the occasion, I found an article on the small village which makes a living with a traditional whale hunting. The hunting style was primitive. A hunter who was called Ramafa jumped onto a whale to spear with a harpoon. Then the other crew followed him. Before the modern whaling with harpoon gun, whale hunting used to be like that.
The hunting season is from May to August. The opening ceremony of the season attracts many tourists and media every year. It must be the most busy days in a year for Lamalera. Because nevertheless a couple of weeks ahead to the season, I've never met a tourist in the village.
It's in pre-season now. But the hunting actually takes place. I was told just before coming here. "Are you going to Lamalera? They've got already 4 whales at once a couple of days ago. I read on the news paper. I hope you have a chance to see it." The hundreds of whale meats on the beach must be a sign of the big catch. Maybe I'm lucky to see full of whale meats cover the sandy beach before the season. Or maybe I'm unlucky on the laws of probability. Because I heard they capture from 2 to 5 whales per month in average.
Fishermen have already show up on the Whale Beach and prepare for the hunting. Resident take his dog a walk beside them. It's a common beach scene in the morning.
Just before 7 o'clock, one of the fishermen gets start settling logs on the sand. From the boat hut to the water, they are settled in equal interval. All crews now come together and 10 men are pushing the boat. The things hang up on the holder of the boat are harpoons with long bamboo haft which was scorched yesterday. When the boat reaches to the water, the pushers are reduced to 8, and at the last moment 7 crews row out to the ocean. The fishermen who are left on the land quickly remove the logs. How is today's fortune? While I walk on the beach, another boat rows out. I missed it. I've gotta mark two boats.
The boats have gone. Let's take a walk in Lamalera. The village divided in two part. When I walk up to a point from the Whale Beach, I see a beautiful scenery on the other side. I call it "New Village" sorry I made it up again. On the skirt of the mountain, I see a catholic church and tin roof houses. Many Christians here is cause of Portugal governed history. Whale meats and guts are dried also here each house's yard. The trickled oil are gathered into the tin box. It must be for a fuel.
When I'm going back to the Whale Beach, I meet a funeral procession on the point. From adult to elementary school students, residents are walking with coffin. I guess they are going to the church. I follow them.
In the church, prayer begins by the priest. All attendants are now praying. When I watch it through the door, a guy next to me says "Why don't you come in and sit on the bench?" I heard only Christian can enter a church in Indonesia. But an other religion people are praying together, I know it from various behaviors in the prayer. Yeah, Lamalera is small village. The pray for the past parson together.
Although I attend the ceremony, I don't even know who's funeral. So I ask to an attendant who the woman in the photo frame is. "She is Mama Clara" It's the answer. Of course I don't know about her. However gathering from variety of attendants, I can easily guess she has been loved and respected by the people. I regret not to see Mama Clara alive in this charming village. Her coffin is brought into the cemetery. Before the burial, prayer gives her once again. I see a blue ocean beyond the rusted tin roof of the houses. In this beautiful scenery the life of Mama Clara whom I don't know has been ended.
I come back to the Whale Beach area. Lovely day. Elementary school students who I saw in the church are now gathering under a tree in the square. Spreading a big cloth and waiting for the old man drops the reddish fruit of syzygium aqueum. Why the kids in this village has such pure eyes of curiosity?
From the backyard of the guest house, I heard mom's voice talking to somebody. I check it out. She is talking to the voice from her mobile phone speaker. While she is chatting on the phone, her hands is quickly picking rounded leaves of plant. I have no idea what's the plant. It's boiled in salted water and served for my meal later. The taste is new to me.
It's a time for the whale boats to come back. How's the result? ... nothing ... oh...
As if reversing the video of the morning, logs are lined on the beach and the boat is pushed back to a hut. A smaller boat also comes back and distribute small fishes to the kids. Catching whale is not so easy. Coming to the beach 2 o'clock everyday is something like scratching lottery to me. I hope they'll get a whale tomorrow.
The reddish sun light make stand out the rusted red roofs of the village. I notice the whale meats are dried up even on the roofs. Residents are collecting the meat in the sunset. Students, fishermen ... all the people come back to the village and chatting. Basically they are friendly, although they have tough heart of islander at same time. Islander? I remember I'm in a remote island of Indonesia.
The guest house has new guest tonight. A trader of whale bone accessory. Everything is on a whale in this village.
And tonight, the whale is on my dinner table. As if saying "as much as you want" The dried meat was cut in cube and boiled. I cannot eat a lot. The smell of the meat is the very smell I have sent all the day in the village. So I feel already full just on the smell.
Actually, it's not first time for eating whale dish to me. I'm in a generation that whale meat was served in Japan's school lunch. (Beef was expensive for school lunch in those days) But whichever sweet boiled cube cut meat nor the frit, it's not tasty for kid's tongue. Before long the whale dish was removed from the lunch menu. (Maybe imported cheap beef was replaced on it)
Then whale meat had obliged from my mind for long time. I recognized a whale dish is really tasty was much later when I grew up and went to a bar or a whale dish restaurant. I had never imagined whale sashimi or bacon is so delicious. After all depends on how it cooked, especially for me.
I know whale meat is quite valuable here. So I'm sorry to mom that I can't eat them a lot. Meanwhile a fish is fresh and delicious without exception.