When photojournalist Paul Jones first travelled to a little-known island in Japanese Indonesia to doc locals’ subsistence life-style and, specifically, their apply of harpooning whales from small boats, he was initially after the legendary excellent photograph.
“At instances I’m inside grasp of the proper picture, solely to see it [a whale] dive to the depths of the Savu Sea,” Mr Jones mentioned.
Readers are suggested this story incorporates photos that some readers would possibly discover distressing.
Over a number of journeys to the village of Lamalera on the island of Lembata, lasting greater than a month every time, he got here to look past the photograph to understand the uncommon alternative to work together intently with a singular tradition.
The self-set task nonetheless carried many logistical and moral challenges; it was actually no vacation.
“You fly into Bali, Denpasar, then you definitely catch a small aircraft to Flores, after which it is a journey of small buses, motorbikes, ferries, and motorbikes once more,” mentioned Mr Jones, a former worldwide information photographer, from Wollongong in New South Wales.
“In all it takes you about 4 days to get to this island.”
And when you get there life is pretty fundamental.
“There isn’t any electrical energy, there is no such thing as a working water, the staple food regimen normally consists of rice and dried whale meat. There are no motels, there isn’t any alcohol,” Mr Jones mentioned.
Whereas he developed a nuanced appreciation of the folks and their cultural practices, Mr Jones mentioned that did not imply he endorsed their killing of whales, dolphins and manta rays.
“Though the topic of whaling is so controversial and it may be considerably horrific to look at, these folks had been such pleased folks and really accommodating of individuals like myself, Westerners, making the trouble to go and see what they do and what their tradition is about,” he mentioned.
“Subsistence whaling is the primary economic system across the village, so everybody would have one thing to do with it.”
It is a male-oriented tradition, with the lads constructing the boats and fishing gear by hand, whereas the ladies usually are concerned with cooking and sustaining the house.
On the high of the fishing pecking order is the harpooner, or lamafa.
“He’s checked out as being the pin-up boy of the village,” Mr Jones mentioned.
“The younger youngsters will aspire to turning into lamafas.
“I used to be anti-whaling, as I assume most Westerners or Australians are.
“There was one thing I all the time felt while you see these stunning huge beasts, whether or not it is whales, dolphins or manta rays, that are all these hunted creatures by the Indonesians in Lamalera, … you go, ‘Oh my God, is that this proper or is that this improper?’
“However I did come to that realisation as a journalist. I used to be taking a look at it objectively and that is their life and may I actually say what is true and improper for them?”
What Mr Jones additionally could not shrink back from was the inherent risks concerned, as all too usually the apply led to damage and even loss of life for the fishermen.
“These boats do get broken by whales,” he mentioned.
“Whales, their important defence is the flukes, so the tail of the whale.
“Sperm whales specifically are fairly aggressive. They’ll attempt to smash the boat or the harpoon ropes with their flukes.
“It just isn’t unusual to see boats which have half sunk, or are damaged, and it isn’t unusual to listen to of tales the place folks have died, individuals are injured, all due to catching whales.”
On the finish of the day, what’s caught is shared amongst the greater than 1,000 residents of the village, or traded.
“Relying on how huge the whale is, it may final for per week, it may final for a month, and in addition the whale meat that’s dried out is used for barter,” Mr Jones mentioned.
“They’ll barter with different folks from completely different islands for rice, for greens. It is an actual lifestyle.”
The village has a quota of 12 whales a 12 months set by the Worldwide Whaling Fee, which distinguishes between Aboriginal subsistence and industrial whaling, and assesses what’s a sustainable hunt based mostly on the animals’ abundance and inhabitants.
Sadly and with out clear clarification, it appeared the whales had been turning into scarcer, Mr Jones noticed.
“After I lately went again they mentioned they hadn’t seen a whale in over a 12 months,” he mentioned.
Whether or not this proves to be a pattern that threatens their subsistence life-style is but to be decided.
Mr Jones, who lately accomplished a grasp’s diploma on Indonesian whale hunters, and plans to comply with up with a PhD on subsistence whaling all over the world, will launch a e book of his prints and an exhibition of his pictures at The Wollongong Gallery in February.