Indonesia Expat - - CONTENTS - Text and Images by Grace Suse­tyo

Ta­man Daun: The Whale Hunter's Li­brary and Art Space

As I first lay eyes on Ta­man Daun, I had to ask my­self, “Where am I?” Hav­ing spent the past three months wan­der­ing through the rain­forests and coastal vil­lages of Nusa Teng­gara, I wasn’t ex­pect­ing to find a cozy, ope­nair li­brary-café in a breezy gar­den, finely dec­o­rated with taste­ful paint­ings, mu­si­cal in­stru­ments, jars of seashells and in­spi­ra­tional quotes in English.

Then I saw the monstrous whale bones dis­played un­der­neath a se­ries of paint­ings of whale tails. In­side, I was wel­comed by weavers Mama Gita and Mama Lisa who were ar­rang­ing re­sist-dyed threads to be wo­ven into a fab­ric bear­ing the lo­cal whale mo­tif.

In their cul­ture, not only do women make tenun ikat fab­ric to wear and sell, but they also hold reg­u­lar so­cial gath­er­ings for spin­ning threads out of cot­ton and cer­e­monies for weav­ing these threads into ropes to moor their hus­bands’ an­chors and hoist their sails.

A ban­ner fly­ing over the cozy art gallery says ‘Ger­akan Seribu Buku un­tuk Lem­bata’ – One Thou­sand Books for Lem­bata.

Ta­man Daun started as a sim­ple li­brary, play­house and cul­tural space in the late 1980s in the home of lo­cal painter and lamafa (whale hunter) Goris Batafor. In 1984, Batafor gave up a promis­ing job with the Depart­ment of Fish­eries in Bali to take care of his ag­ing par­ents in Le­woleba and spent his time vol­un­teer­ing for pub­lic health, agri­cul­tural and cul­tural causes. To­day, Ta­man Daun has been run­ning three gen­er­a­tions strong.

Orig­i­nally from La­malera – a vil­lage in South Lem­bata best known for the lamafa tra­di­tion and its as­so­ci­a­tion with lo­cal Ro­man Catholi­cism – but un­able to re­turn due to cus­tom­ary re­stric­tions, Batafor as­pires to build a ‘mini La­malera’ in Lem­bata’s cap­i­tal town.

To the peo­ple of La­malera, lamafa cul­ture is not just a means of putting food on the ta­ble or gain­ing power and wealth.

It is the very back­bone of their so­ci­ety through which so­cial struc­tures are built and skills and val­ues are trans­mit­ted in­ter­gen­er­a­tionally.

“I en­vi­sion Ta­man Daun as a space for sto­ries of the lamafa to live on, even if the prac­tice ceases,” Batafor ex­plains his un­fin­ished dream. “We need a mu­seum to store our pledang clan boats and other arte­facts and keep them in prime con­di­tion. We need a space where lo­cal lamafa com­mu­ni­ties can meet out­siders who open our minds to the im­por­tance of pass­ing our sto­ries to the next gen­er­a­tion.”

But find­ing fund­ing has been a chal­lenge, as well as stand­ing up to La­malera cul­ture’s re­sis­tant sta­tus quo. With the rise of tourism and so­cial me­dia, there is a great in­ter­est in ‘selling’ La­malera for its con­tro­ver­sial whale hunt­ing tra­di­tions. But this, said Batafor, is iron­i­cally one of the causes of the cul­ture’s demise.

“We com­plain that young men no longer sail our pledang or sing our an­ces­tors’ lamafa songs. Tourists go to sea on mo­tor­ized John­son boats and play recorded pop mu­sic,” said Batafor. “Com­mer­cial­iz­ing lamafa cul­ture also causes a dis­re­gard for cul­tural pro­to­cols. For ex­am­ple, tra­di­tion for­bids a lamafa to go to sea when he has a fall­ing out with some­one else. But with tourism, the show must go on. At sea, they kill whale species that our an­ces­tors for­bade hunt­ing, or [even] a mother whale nurs­ing her calf. Then they eas­ily write it off as an in­no­cent mis­take to be ab­solved through an apol­ogy rit­ual to the sea.”

While lamafa cul­ture re­mains cen­tral to the La­malera iden­tity, Batafor said he be­lieves in the im­por­tance of seek­ing a cul­ture’s vi­sion to change with the times and the form in which this gen­er­a­tion’s cul­ture is to be per­pet­u­ated. Ten­sions are ris­ing, as the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity scru­ti­nizes lamafa cul­ture for an­i­mal cru­elty and sus­tain­abil­ity is­sues, while lamafa clans also fight for the own­er­ship of their cul­ture among di­vided in­ter­ests.

“The Maori of New Zealand also have a whal­ing cul­ture. But to­day they man­age to find sus­tain­able ways of keep­ing the cul­ture alive,” noted Batafor. The Maori re­gard the whale as a sa­cred in­car­nate of the ocean god Tan­garoa – a story that con­tin­ues to be told through Maori art, lit­er­a­ture and ed­u­ca­tion. Maori whale bone carv­ing re­mains a thriv­ing craft that uti­lizes the bones of beached whales.

In the early 2010s, the World Wide Fund for Na­ture started a whale con­ser­va­tion project in Lem­bata, which as­sisted lamafa in switch­ing to tuna fish­ing and at­tempted to in­tro­duce whale watch­ing tourism.

“That way, the whale con­tin­ues to sus­tain our wid­ows and or­phans, but they need not be killed for it,” said Batafor. “But the idea of go­ing from ‘hunter’ to ‘watcher’ of­fends many lamafa.”

Batafor started Ta­man Daun as a col­lab­o­ra­tive space where Lem­bata’s chil­dren and youth can find cul­tural vi­sion amid these ten­sions by read­ing books that en­hance their ed­u­ca­tion, learn­ing lo­cal wis­dom from their el­ders and gain­ing mul­ti­cul­tural knowl­edge and in­no­va­tion from vis­it­ing vol­un­teers.

With­out this con­tex­tual three-way col­lab­o­ra­tion, Batafor added, ed­u­ca­tion alone tends to at­tract young peo­ple’s in­ter­ests to the van­ity and con­ve­nience of mod­ern tech­nol­ogy at the ex­pense of learn­ing tra­di­tional knowl­edge. “But it’s not fair ei­ther to curb our kids’ at­trac­tion to the mod­ern,” said Batafor. “It’s as if Lem­bata is about to ex­pe­ri­ence the com­fort of its first sofa and Jakarta tells us, ‘No, go back to your old bam­boo benches.’”

Batafor added that “go­ing back” is nev­er­the­less im­por­tant when it means re­con­nect­ing to the in­ter­gen­er­a­tional spa­ces that nour­ish the youth’s sense of iden­tity and be­long­ing to the cul­ture. It’s also look­ing to re­gen­er­ate lead­ers with a sus­tain­able cul­tural vi­sion for the next gen­er­a­tion. In the con­text of La­malera, this may mean rein­vent­ing the learn­ing and lead­er­ship spa­ces that lamafa used to serve.

“[‘Go­ing back’] has not been easy,” said Mama Gita. At age 53, she is cur­rently the youngest weaver in Le­woleba. While Batafor and the women in his fam­ily have at­tempted to bring weav­ing classes into lo­cal schools, chil­dren and teens to­day do not have the pa­tience and at­ten­tion spans that older gen­er­a­tions had. The clos­est to suc­cess they’ve had teach­ing kids was hav­ing them make tie-dye table­cloths.

De­spite so­cial me­dia and tele­vi­sion com­pet­ing for young peo­ple’s at­ten­tion to­day, Ta­man Daun con­tin­ues to at­tract chil­dren and young adults look­ing for en­light­en­ing al­ter­na­tives. To get in touch with Ta­man Daun, con­tact lo­cal vol­un­teer Fino Mon­teiro at +6281284856950. Mon­teiro runs a dive op­er­a­tor in Le­woleba and is con­duct­ing re­search on La­malera’s pledang clan boats.

Goris Batafor and Mama Gita

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