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Lamalera Journal: A Whaling Way of Life Under Threat

Leonardo Lowokrore, the village priest, said that the law was clear, but that many villagers don’t understand. He added that Japanese and Chinese buyers frequently visited Lamalera to purchase delicacies like shark fins, but said he has counseled Lamalerans that selling protected species was no way to earn a living.

“There are many other ways to get your kid through school,” like catching unprotected fish species, or catering to occasional international tourists, he said.

Brahmantya Poerwadi, a director general at Indonesia’s Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries in Jakarta, said he planned to meet with conservation groups and villagers to develop alternative methods of fishing to reduce the killing of protected species. “I honor the tribe,” he said. “But the thing is we need to do something.”

The villagers say they are fine as they are.

Each Friday, on market day, villagers from a fertile hill region nearby descend on Lamalera to trade produce that Lamalera’s thin soil cannot support, a practice considered legal. As a small red dust kicks up in the wind, Lamaleran women try to barter whole fish and slabs of whale meat for corn, vegetables and tobacco.

“Whale meat is the most delicious,” said Yustina Prami, an older Lamalera woman with a hunched back and a mouth stained red by betel juice. Although she barters her flying fish for corn, she will accept only cash for her dried sperm whale meat, a sign of its value.

“The whale is different from other fish,” said Aloysius Enga Beding, a middle-aged fisherman who, like many Lamalerans, believes sperm whales are a gift from the village’s ancestors. “Sharks and mantas are for whoever catches them. But whales are big. They’re for the entire community.”

Source: NYT > World

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