Lembata Island


Lembata

Map of the islands of East Nusa Tenggara, including Lembata (which is labelled as Lomblen on the map).

Lembata is an island in the Lesser Sunda Islands, formerly known as Lomblen island, is the largest island of the Solor Archipelago, in the Lesser Sunda Islands, Indonesia. It forms part of the province of Nusa Tenggara Timur. The length of the island is about 80 km from the Southwest to the Northeast and the width is about 30 km from the West to the East. It rises to a height of 1533 m.

To the west lie the other islands in the archipelago, most notably Solor and Adonara, and then the larger island of Flores. To the east is the Alor Strait, which separates this archipelago from the Alor Archipelago. To the south across the Savu Sea lies the island of Timor, while to the north the western branch of the Banda Sea separates it from Buton and the other islands of Southeast Sulawesi.

Geography

Teluk Waienga – protected bay of Lembata island

The capital city Lewoleba (also known as Labala) is found on the Western part of the island alongside a huge bay facing the Ilê Ape volcano in the North. Ships frequently connect the coastal towns and surrounding islands, but the only bigger harbour exists at Lewoleba in the North of the island. From Lewoleba there are daily connections to Larantuka, Flores, and Waiwerang on the neighbouring island of Adonara.

Lewoleba sunset (above)

Like the other Lesser Sunda Islands, and indeed much of Indonesia, Lembata is volcanically active. It has three volcanoes, Ililabalekan, Iliwerung, and Lewotolo.

History

The south part of Lembata was the site of the state of Labala.

People

The people of Lembata are, like many other inhabitants of Eastern Indonesia, famous for their handmade ikat weavings.

The national language, Indonesian, is known by many people of all ages, but like on other islands the national language coexists with many local languages. The most widespread of these is probably Lamaholot (another lingua franca inside the Solor archipelago). Lamaholot is spoken as a native language on Eastern Flores and Western Solor, and is itself divided into ten or more sublanguages (and many more dialects). It is spoken by 150.000 or more people in the region.

On the South coast of Lembata, the village of Lamalera (pop. 2.500) is known for its whale hunting. Lamalera and Lamakera (on the neighbouring island of Solor) are the last two remaining Indonesian whaling communities.

 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.

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