The Whale Beach
6:30 am. I head on the Whale beach. Fishermen are preparing for today's hunting as usual. The slight difference from yesterday is the line of logs. The line comes from another boat hat to the sea.
Fishermen get start pushing the boat on the logs. Every time one of them is left on the beach after the last push. He salute to the seven samurais on the boat as if he is saying "Get'em today!" I like the picture of the moment. Two boats depart everyday. But actually forty boats or fifty line up in the boat huts. How many boats come out in the season?
Fishermen who leave on the land make groups and get start each job. A man who peeling the wood skin must be making the log. Next to him another fisherman repair an inverted triangle shaped mast. In the boat hut another group is twisting a rope. The ropes are put together again to make a tougher one. Is the rope for hauling a captured whale or setting on harpoon's haft? Three men keep twisting the rope with full power.
Apart from them, strange shaped instruments are settled in the hut. Four pipes are set around fire. Two fishermen hold wood rods in both hands and take each rod in and out alternately. Fresh air is supplied to the fire and kept strength. Then the end of iron bar is placed into the fire. They must be smithy. Then the red hot iron is replaced on the stone, and another two fishermen hit it with hummers. They told me they are making a point of harpoon.
I watch each fisherman's behavior with interest. They move without hesitation as if they follow each role and schedule. It seems they understand each other without conversation.
On the way to the new village, I look over the Whale beach from the point. I see boys are training the whale hunting. They stand on the rock in the sea and jump into the water with harpoon. Garbage dumping is big problem in Indonesian beach. Although Lamalera's sea is the transparently clear to the coral reef.
Residents bring a bucket and gather into a communal water reserver. When they turn the faucet of the huge concrete tank, clear water splash out. Then I think about water system in this village. I try to remember if I have seen a faucet in the guest house. I cannot recall. I usually drink water in the carafe on the dining table. Shower and toilet are traditional style scooping water from the big bucket. So it means the water is brought from the reserve tank every day? I must save the water.
Nearby the reserve tank, workers are demolishing an old house. In the off season, looks like not all the men belong to the whale hunting.
"Hey, where are you from? Japan? Wanna some sake?" "Ah ... Yes, why not" It tastes like whisky, strong one. Don't drink too much. Or you guys fall off from top of the roof.
It's another mild day today. Lembata island is now in dry season. I feel even cooler in the morning. I was ready for tropical night with 80% humidity. So I'm so happy with unexpected comfortable climate.
On the Whale beach, the training by the kids are still going on. Number of kids are increasing and they take a boat now. It's hard to picture how Ramafa spear a whale with the harpoon. However it's become clear when I see the practice by kids. They float a target on the water and jump into it aiming with harpoon. The beautiful form isn't necessary. The most important thing is how they surely spear the whales at the first shot.
Little kids also come to the beach and take bathing. Before long a whale boat returns. The children's voice are faded out. Even a little kid knows the time the boat comes back. Fishermen on the land get start to set logs. So how is today's results? No whales ... Footage of boat pusher is dull. And the kids quickly go back to the water.
Without a moment, the second boat's back home. "No big results" I murmured and look over the sea. However all the kids are gathering around the boat.
Oh! Looks like a big one. Fishermen try to slip it off from the boat to the water. Even though the boat is tilted, it's too heavy no sign to move. Some kids are jumped onto the boat and look into it. The Whale Beach is becoming busy. Suddenly the boat tilts to the max and the monster is slipped off into the water. I see a huge fin reflects under the sun light. It's a Manta Ray.
I have seen it as an object to watch in the aquarium. But it's the first time for me to see a captured manta so close. Looks really heavy on the land, although the rope is tied on the mouth. Two fishermen pull it from the water to the sand. But it doesn't move any more. The manta is left alone on the beach and fishermen go to help pushing back the boat. Grownups, kids ... so many people are pushing the boat. Contrary to the manta, the boat smoothly moving on the logs. Bringing back the big souvenir is always welcome to the people.
I look back the manta left on sand. One boy comes up to the killed manta which has many speared holes around the lung part. He looks it with mercy then looks into the huge mouth and gills. Then he touched on the edge of the gigantic fin. I feel you ...
The manta is dragged by 7 fishermen or 8 on the sand. It's so heavy that the sand is flatten after that. When the cool shaped tail is finally dragged into the hut, one of the fishermen takes a knife. Then for the first time I have been here, I'm refused taking a picture. "Hey, No photo!" "Oops, sorry"
The knife is stuck into the manta's body and cut it into piece. The part from the mouth to lung is relatively vacant. Monotonous disassembling, totally different from cutting sashimi from tuna. The body divided into blocks. Well, if I cannot photograph, then I don't need staying here to the end.
While I'm photographing neighbors, people who bring the manta's meat in the bucket come up from the beach one after another. How do they cook the gigantic blocks. I know dried fin of ray or sake with ray's fin although I never heard a manta dish.
In sunset time, I often meet the people who bring fishes. Look so happy. I come across a girl on the road in new village. Fishes are tagged on the waist. I ask her to let me take a look. She shows the fishes to me ashamed. Her feet on the pavement road wear no shoes. When is the last time I walk on the road with barefoot? In Lamalera I often saw people who walk with barefoot. No shoes on the foot but a smartphone in the hand is really the 21st Century like picture, isn't it?
On the beach, kids' football match begins. The Whale Beach is a real communal square although the village has a square with big tree. As if every thing is scheduled, various resident use the beach one after another. Especially the sunset time is busy for the young and kids after school. An elementary school and middle school are in the village. The students study from early morning to noon. Then come back to the house for taking a long lunch break. They back to the school and study till the late afternoon. Meanwhile no high school in the village. The students go to the school 2 km away.
Nearby the guest house, I see guys setting chairs on the road in front of one house. They describe to me they have ceremony for a parson passed away in the evening. "If is it Mama Clara?" "Yes, Here is her house. Generally we hold the ceremony on following four nights after the funeral"
In the evening, I actually visit the ceremony. The road is filled up with people. I'm offered a seat. Shortly after, the speech about Mama Clara comes from speakers and followed by prayer.
When I'm leaving from the seat after finishing the ceremony, someone calls my name. "Fumi? Are you leaving?" I cannot remember who he is even I see his face. "Yeah, I remember him. Craft man of whale bone accessory. It's really pleasure to me he remember the name of the short term stay traveller. He tells me that it's common that meals are served for the attendants. "Sorry, I just finished a dinner" He shrugs.
I regret refusing the offer when I come across the another funeral mass for Mama Clara few days later in big church in Leworeba. It was a chance to know about her. She can be big name in the island.