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The Last Whalers
Three Years in the Far Pacific with a Courageous Tribe and a Vanishing Way of Life
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A New York Times Notable Book
A New York Times Editors' Choice
Winner of Lowell Thomas Travel Book Award Silver Medal
Finalist for William Saroyan International Writing Prize
Longlisted for Mountbatten Award for Best Book
Telegraph Best Travel Books of the Year
Hampshire Gazette Best Books of 2019
One of the favorite books of Yuval Noah Harari, author of the classic bestseller Sapiens, "on the subject of humanity's place in the world." (via Airmail)
On a volcanic island in the Savu Sea so remote that other Indonesians call it "The Land Left Behind" live the Lamalerans: a tribe of 1,500 hunter-gatherers who are the world's last subsistence whalers. They have survived for half a millennium by hunting whales with bamboo harpoons and handmade wooden boats powered by sails of woven palm fronds. But now, under assault from the rapacious forces of the modern era and a global economy, their way of life teeters on the brink of collapse.
Award-winning journalist Doug Bock Clark, one of a handful of Westerners who speak the Lamaleran language, lived with the tribe across three years, and he brings their world and their people to vivid life in this gripping story of a vanishing culture. Jon, an orphaned apprentice whaler, toils to earn his harpoon and provide for his ailing grandparents, while Ika, his indomitable younger sister, is eager to forge a life unconstrained by tradition, and to realize a star-crossed love. Frans, an aging shaman, tries to unite the tribe in order to undo a deadly curse. And Ignatius, a legendary harpooner entering retirement, labors to hand down the Ways of the Ancestors to his son, Ben, who would secretly rather become a DJ in the distant tourist mecca of Bali.
Deeply empathetic and richly reported, The Last Whalers is a riveting, powerful chronicle of the collision between one of the planet's dwindling indigenous peoples and the irresistible enticements and upheavals of a rapidly transforming world.
The Hariona Family
Yohanes “Jon” Demon Hariona: A young man striving to become a harpooner, custodian of the motorboat VJO
Fransiska “Ika” Bribin Hariona: His younger sister
Yosef Boko Hariona: His grandfather
Fransiska “Grandmother” Bribin Hariona: His grandmother
Lusia Sipa Hariona: His mother
Maria “Mari” Hariona: His youngest sister
The Seran Blikololong Family
Ignatius Seran Blikololong: Renowned harpooner and shipwright, trying to teach his sons his trades
Teresea Palang Hariona: His wife
Yosef Tubé Blikololong: His eldest son
Willibrodus “Ondu” Boeang Demon Blikololong III: His middle son
Benyamin “Ben” Kleka Blikololong: His youngest son
Maria “Ela” Hermina Elisabeth Began Blikololong: His youngest daughter
The Mikulangu Bediona Clan
Fransiskus “Frans” Boli Bediona: Head of the Mikulangu lineage of the Bediona clan, shaman, and captain of Kéna Pukã
Maria Kleka Blikololong: His wife, younger sister of Ignatius Seran Blikololong
Bernadette “Bena” Bediona: His youngest child
Andreus “Anso” Soge Bediona: His younger relation and Jon Hariona’s fishing partner
The Wujon Family
Siprianus “Sipri” Raja Wujon: Head of the Wujon clan, a Lord of the Land
Marsianus Dua Wujon: His son, also a Lord of the Land
Yosef “Ote” Klake Bataona: Friend of Jon Hariona, sometime harpooner of Kéna Pukã and VJO
Fransiskus Gonsalés “Salés” Usé Bataona: Patron of Jon Hariona, owner of VJO, businessman, and former mayor of Lamalera
Aloysius Enga “Alo” Kĕrofa: Boyfriend of Ika Hariona
A Note on the Text
This is a true story. I witnessed many of these events. Scenes that I did not observe were reconstructed from interviews with participants and, when available, historical records. When accounts diverged on minor points, especially regarding hectic events like a hunt, I privileged the view of the person whose perspective frames the passage. When there were major differences of opinion about an occurrence, I made this explicit in the text. Notes to sources can be found at the end of this book. For rendering thoughts, feelings, or spiritual experiences, such as the Lamalerans’ communion with their Ancestors, I relied on the testimony of participants. Dialogue in quotation marks represents, most often, words I heard or, occasionally, words that were reconstructed by participants. All other speech is paraphrased. As with hunting a sperm whale, this book is the work of a village.
THE LAMALERAN ODYSSEY
March 10, 1994–April 1994
About five centuries ago, on the western rim of the Pacific Ocean, a tsunami obliterated the village of a band of hunter-gatherers now known as the Lamalerans. After a harrowing odyssey, the survivors built a new home on Lembata, a backwater island so remote that today other Indonesians call that corner of their nation “The Land Left Behind.” The shore of Lamalera Bay is too rocky and parched to grow crops, but the newcomers soon discovered that even one of the sperm whales schooling just offshore would provide enough meat to feed everyone for weeks. To survive this harsh environment and the dangerous work, the Lamalerans evolved a unique culture that has been rated by anthropologists as one of the world’s most cooperative and generous, a necessity when it comes to coordinating dozens of men to defeat colossal whales and then equitably share the bounty.
Today, the Lamalerans are among the small and ever-dwindling number of hunter-gatherer societies remaining in existence, and the only one to survive by whaling. Although the Lamalerans will harpoon anything from porpoises to orcas, their main prey are sperm whales, the largest toothed carnivore alive. The tribe’s three hundred hunters take an average of twenty a year, enough to sustain all fifteen hundred of their people with the jerkied meat through the lean monsoon season, when storms make it difficult to launch their ships. While several Inuit communities also still whale, those arctic seafarers increasingly derive their sustenance from imported packaged food and mechanized fishing methods, making the Lamalerans the world’s last true subsistence whalers. Indonesia is not a signatory to the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling, but even if it were, the agreement still permits aboriginal subsistence hunts like the Lamalerans’. Moreover, several hundred thousand sperm whales survive in the wild, meaning the tribe has little impact on the animal’s global population.
For hundreds of years, the hunt has been the foundation of the Lamalerans’ nutrition and culture. Even as neighboring tribes have abandoned ancient occupations for modern ones, the Lamalerans have preserved their unique livelihood by limiting foreign influences, worshipping their forebears, and defending the Ways of the Ancestors, a set of whaling and religious practices handed down through the generations. Though outside ideas—Catholicism spread by Jesuit missionaries, for example—have taken root in the tribe, the ancient beliefs remain strong, and the whalers continue to practice shamanism.
But over the last two decades, the Lamalerans, like many other indigenous peoples, have been ever more pressured by the free flow of information, goods, and technology that has transformed even the remotest corners of the earth. Today, the tribe is threatened by its youth abandoning whaling to seek a modern life, by industrial trawlers overfishing its waters, by businessmen and foreign activists attempting to change its livelihood, and by internal battles over how to cope with the conundrums posed by modernity. Unless the Lamalerans can figure out how to navigate these proliferating troubles while remaining true to their identities, they confront their end.
They are not alone in this struggle. Since Europeans began colonizing other continents in the sixteenth century, an accelerating wave of cultural extinction has halved the number of cultures worldwide, with thousands lost in the last century alone and thousands more predicted to be obliterated in the next few decades. In 2009, the United Nations reported that many of humanity’s 370 million indigenous people were enduring threats similar to those the Lamalerans face, for though the Lamalerans are almost unique as whalers, numerous groups still survive as herders, swidden agriculturalists, and hunter-gatherers.
The Lamalerans’ experience, then, speaks not just to the danger faced by earth’s remaining indigenous peoples but to the greater cultural extinction humanity is suffering. Before agriculture was invented, every human was a forager. In the transformation from our first identity to our modern one is the story of how our very nature has changed—for better and for worse. As the number of ways to be human rapidly diminishes, all people, whether in industrialized or traditional societies, must ask: What is being lost as our original modes of life die out? Who are we now? And who will we become?
AS RECENTLY AS 1994, most of the outside world’s threats to the Lamalerans still lay beyond the horizon. Each morning, the hunters sang prayers to the Ancestors while raising their palm-leaf sails. By early March, the squalls of the winter monsoon, during which whaling mostly pauses, had been replaced by the gray clouds that often lid the sky just before the dry season, when the hunt resumes.
On March 10 of that year, the tribesmen were pile-driving flagstones into the village’s dirt road, which had liquefied during the preceding three months of rain, when someone witnessed a sperm whale body slam the Savu Sea. Baleo! Baleo! Baleo! echoed. They dropped their shovels and sprinted to the beach. But with so many men working on the road up and down the mountain, there were only enough within earshot to launch six of the twenty-one téna.
Ignatius Blikololong, Ondu Blikololong’s father and one of the most renowned harpooners in the tribe despite his slight frame and forty-four years, bid a hasty farewell to Teresea Hariona, his wife. She was due to give birth to their next child at any hour, but a lamafa was responsible for feeding not just his family: he had to spear the prey that would be divided among his whole clan. He felt he could not shirk his duty, especially when the tribe had almost exhausted its food stores during the monsoons, waiting to hunt again. Their parting was notably emotional among the other Lamaleran couples taking their leave without fanfare, for they had endured an epic romance, star-crossed by family feuds, and remained unusually demonstrative afterwards. There was only enough time for him to nod to his seven-year-old son, Ben, before claiming the hâmmâlollo of the ship Téti Heri.
Yosef Boko Hariona said goodbye to his two-year-old grandson, Jon, who often howled at leave-takings since his father had abandoned him and his mother. Yosef Boko was entering his sixth decade, but he still whaled, as there was no other man to support his wife, husbandless daughter, and her children. He joined Ignatius and grabbed Téti Heri’s tiller oar, for though he could no longer paddle as forcefully as younger men, he could steer with savvy.
Fransiskus “Frans” Boli Bediona, a stocky thirty-six-year-old shaman with an overgrown beard and mane, impatiently took his leave from his wife, who was Ignatius’s younger sister, and their three young children, pausing only to kiss the littlest, his infant daughter, Bernadette, whom he called Bena. He burned with an almost religious fervor to get hunting. Whaling connected him to the Ancestors as much as the animal sacrifices and other rituals he helped execute. He served as the backup harpooner on the téna Kelulus.
As the six impromptu crews chased after the white spouts contrasting against the dark waves and stormy sky, they sang. At that time, it was still the Age of Song, before outboard engines silenced the hunters. Every man joined in. As they rowed, they chorused:
Kidé ajaka tani-tena
Many widows and orphans cry
Lié doré angina
Requesting for the wind to join us
Hari hélu bo kanato.
And for the fish to come to us.
There were different songs for each kind of prey, songs to celebrate a successful hunt, and songs to mourn returning home empty-handed. On land, there were specific songs for axing trees, building boats, pestling rice into flour, weaving sarongs, rocking babies to sleep, recounting the stories of the Ancestors, and every other aspect of life. The Lamalerans sang in a high nasal pitch, often bridging their choruses with eerie extended notes and ululations.
The songs were more than music—they were prayers. The Lamalerans believe in a kind of animism mixed with Catholicism, with ancestor worship thrown in. For them, everything has a spirit—from their prey to the sun—and it must be honored. The Ancestors might have died, but their ghosts still accompany their descendants. Thus, the songs of the Lamalerans aim to influence both the spiritual and the physical world, entreating the winds to rise, their progenitors to guard them, and the whales to come. For the sperm whales they chase are not just animals but gifts sent by the Ancestors to sustain them as a reward for following their Ways. Maintaining a strong relationship with the spirits is key to a successful life.
AS THE GROUP OF TÉNA closed in on its prey, Ignatius tightrope-walked to the tip of the hâmmâlollo. At the tiller, Yosef Boko called out a rhythm, and his men paddled together with seamless coordination. The whole fleet converged with the teamwork of a wolf pack to trap the breeding school of kotekĕlema, the fatty-headed whale, the Gift of the Ancestors. To defeat them, the whole tribe would have to unite.
Ignatius’s ship approached near enough to the closest fleeing whale that he could read the history of the animal’s victories inscribed in its gray hide—ellipses of Os dimpled across its snout, stamped there by the suckers of giant squids it devoured a mile below the surface. He leapt onto the whale’s back with a practiced determination, driving his harpoon precisely into the soft flesh two feet below the dorsal hump, before swimming back to his téna.
The Lamalerans’ strategy was to land as many harpoons as possible, and soon other téna had added their weapons. Now, pulling the accumulating weight of multiple ships, the whale would exhaust itself, and the hunters could harry it from all sides. While one téna was significantly outmatched, a team could overwhelm it.
At first, the battle was close enough to shore that the wives of the whalers spectated as if the headlands were bleachers and the sea a stadium. While Fransiska Hariona, Yosef Boko’s wife, was normally a fretful person, the frothy explosions raised by the thrashing whales concerned her less than keeping an eye on the toddler Jon. Whaling was always risky, with injuries or even, occasionally, deaths resulting, but it was also routine enough that any sense of danger was dulled. Besides, Lamaleran women had their own work to occupy them, from shelling rice, to curing whale steaks, to bartering with the mountain tribes, to weaving sarongs from jungle cotton and then dyeing them with colors crushed from roots.
Two téna quickly overcame a thirty-ton female and a toothless ten-foot-long infant, which probably belonged to a fleeing whale, and then paddled them to shore, their crews singing gratefully to honor the Gifts of the Ancestors. But Téti Heri and Kelulus, as well as two other téna, were dragged by a pair of different whales over the horizon.
The wives returned to work, keeping one eye on the sea. But in the late afternoon instead of sails appearing, a storm front arose. Although the Ancestors forbade the use of engines in the hunt, the tribe did have two skiffs equipped with outboard motors, which they dispatched to find the missing hunters. But strafing precipitation turned the search party around.
At evening, the downpour broke, and the tribe lit signal fires on the beach. Fresh rain soon extinguished them, however. When Fransiska and the other wives tried hanging gas pressure lanterns under the awnings of the boat sheds, the deluge blotted out their light. The weather made them nervous, but hunts normally lasted hours and once or twice a year extended overnight. There was no cause for great concern yet.
Except for Teresea Hariona, Ignatius’s wife and Yosef Boko’s close relative, who crouched in her bamboo hut and cradled her pregnant stomach. Her youngest son, Ben, slept nearby on a mattress stitched out of old rice sacks and stuffed with corn husks, having tried to maintain a vigil for his father and comfort his nervous mother, before eventually succumbing to exhaustion. Every so often she would rise and peer out the door through the storm toward the thrashing ocean, wondering if the baby, which was due at any moment, or Ignatius would arrive home first.
AS THE PAIR OF WHALES had towed Ignatius, Frans, and Yosef Boko east, with two téna attached to each whale, the hunters had rested for five hours, confident that the combination of blood loss and the drogue of the téna would exhaust their prey. But while Labalekang, the volcano behind Lamalera village, diminished from a mile-high peak to a thimble of dirt, the cetaceans never faltered. When a tempest swept onto the horizon in the late afternoon, the Lamalerans realized they would soon have to finish off the whales or brave the storm.
Frans and his lamafa managed to lance their whale again, but in response it uppercut the prow of Kelulus with its tail. The crew fled to the back of the téna as the whale brutalized the front with its flukes. Frantically, they rowed in reverse, letting out rope so they remained attached to the whale. Once safe, they stuffed the two cracks zigzagging through the hull with their sarongs, but the sea kept bubbling in.
The whale that Ignatius on Téti Heri and the lamafa of another téna, Kéna Pukã, had been needling tore through their harpoon ropes at last and dove. With only one chance left to return to Lamalera with a catch, the two téna turned to chase the whale that had just disabled Kelulus. The animal was being kept from escaping by the harpoon ropes attaching it to Kelulus and Kebako Pukã, the flagship vessel of the fleet.
As Ignatius embedded a harpoon in the whale, he glimpsed through the froth of battle a grotesque beast: its head and belly were streaked with white, as if it were partially albino, and its lower jaw had been snapped in half during some ancient battle. In response to this new harpoon, the whale began lobtailing—inverting itself so that its tail stood out of the water and its nose pointed at the seafloor, and then sledgehammering its flukes into the waves. Ignatius ordered a retreat, spooling out rope.
To cover Téti Heri’s flight, Kebako Pukã landed a tenth harpoon, but in retaliation the whale stove in the ship’s bow strake. Half the crew stripped to plug the puncture with their shirts, while the rest bailed and back-paddled.
Stymied, the fleet let their opponent take several hundred feet of rope, rowed close together, and conferenced. Some of the men said they had seen a baby suckling the whale when they first attacked—the baby the other téna had killed. They guessed that the mother was strengthened by a desire for revenge. Ignatius feared that she was not an animal but an unholy monster—though she was only about forty-five feet long, already she had done more damage to the fleet than bull whales twenty feet longer.
The sun crisped to an ember on the western horizon, and then its last rays were blotted out by thickening clouds. As the whale drew them toward the onrushing storm, Ignatius realized that the whale was not trapped by them: they were trapped by the whale. From the hâmmâlollo, he waved a two-foot-long flensing knife and addressed his fellows: “The time has come for us to cut our harpoon rope and go home!”
But the whalers responded, “Don’t let it go! We’ll take it tomorrow!” And so, they kept on.
Night soiled the evening. The men hammered sprung boards tight with whetstones, roped the shattered strakes back into place, and stuffed pith caulking into the cracks. The stars turned off as a blacker darkness conquered the sky. Lightning flared. Thunder drummed. Rain began to pellet the Lamalerans. Waves tackled the téna. The men became so exhausted bailing with halved coconut shells that they had to work in shifts. Ignatius labored stoically, not resting like many of the others, trying to ignore his yearning for his wife, his worry about if their child had yet been born, and his guilt for not being with them.
Around midnight, the storm subsided. From his knotty beard and mane of hair, Frans wrung water into his mouth; the fleet had rushed into battle so suddenly that they carried almost no food or drink. Though he missed his children and wife, he remained enthusiastic for the hunt: he was sure the Ancestors were testing the mettle of their descendants, and he meant to pass that challenge. And his clan’s storehouse, like many others, was running perilously low on whale jerky.
The men bedded down atop wound ropes and the furled sail. Yosef Boko stowed his steering oar, which was useless against the whale’s overwhelming strength, but remained awake, tracking her movements telegraphed through the harpoon rope. It was his job to guide the men home, and even if he could not steer them to safety, he still felt the responsibility to watch over them. But he also trembled with the premonition that this whale would defeat them. When Ignatius had offered to cut the rope, he had silently urged him on. If he was lost, who would care for his wife and grandchildren, including Jon?
By the time dawn pearled, the broken-jawed whale was hauling them through sea beyond the sight of land. She showed no signs of wearing out.
Ignatius called the téna together and announced, “We must have offended the Ancestors yesterday for the whale to be so fierce. We must all clean our mouths, so God will entrust this whale to us and the village can eat.” The hunters prayed.
Soon after, at last the whale’s strength began to wane. She no longer porpoised, but paddled tiredly along the surface. Instead of fountaining, she spouted a light mist, as if hyperventilating. Believing her weakened, Ignatius did not select a harpoon from the weapons rack. Instead, he tied a rusty boat hook to a bamboo pole and ordered his men to row quietly forward. He slid the hook into the whale’s blowhole and yanked back. The colossal head turned. A massive eye judged him.
The whale geysered, dislodging the hook. Then she head-butted Téti Heri so hard that the caulking popped out from between its boards and the Savu Sea began trickling in.
A terrifying possibility dawned on Ignatius: perhaps the whale had just been playing dead, trying to draw in the fleet. No blood reddened her spouting, which meant that the dozen or so harpoon strikes had failed to penetrate her vital organs. Her wounds were only skin-deep.
The whale battered Téti Heri with its tail, until the listing téna retreated. Next it broke off the hâmmâlollo of Kéna Pukã, and the already hobbled Kelulus had its bow rammed open after it tried to cover for its escaping fellows.
But still, many men, including Frans, wanted to finish the battle and claim the whale, which could feed the tribe until the hunting season began in two months. The lamafa of all four ships gathered in a phalanx on the prow of Kebako Pukã, the lone undamaged ship, wielding lances made of duri, flensing knives as long as a man’s forearm, lashed to harpoon shafts. The téna attacked the whale perpendicularly, maneuvering to keep out of range of her tail. But no matter how much pink blood poured from her lacerated hide, her spouting remained pure.
Ignatius was honing his duri with a whetstone when the hull leapt beneath his feet, almost catapulting him, as the whale’s flukes tore open the bow of the téna, so that the halves only connected like a clamshell at the keel.
The men fled the wreckage, swimming to Téti Heri, the only remaining seaworthy téna. The whale lobtailed, as if challenging the Lamalerans to return to the ring. Ignatius, Yosef Boko, and many of the other men had become convinced that their opponent was not a real whale but a “Satan-like” evil spirit. The hunters finally agreed among themselves to cut the ropes that bound them to the devil whale.
But the harpoon lines were not disposable factory-made ropes: they were the leo, the Spirit Ropes of the téna, whose souls were twinned with the souls of each clan’s Spirit House, the locus of their powers. And the leo were woven from jungle cotton, as well as the bark of gebang palms and hibiscus trees, so practically, they represented weeks of work for the community. They could not be carelessly trashed. It was decided that someone would swim through the shark fins razoring the bloody ocean and cut the lines near the harpoon heads to save as much of their length as possible.
Frans volunteered for the mission. As he pulled himself along a harpoon rope with one hand and clutched a duri in the other, he did not fear the hammerhead, white pointer, and tiger sharks ghosting below him through the red mist. When a few zipped in and nosed him like dogs, he kicked the nerve bundles in their snouts. The Lamalerans believe that a shark will not hurt a man with a pure heart, and he knew himself to be righteous. While hunting, he would regularly manhandle sharks into his téna and knife them open. (An anthropologist living with the tribe in the 1980s described seeing men wade into the breakers of Lamalera Bay, pull tiger sharks ashore by their tails, and club them to death.) As he drew closer to the slowly swimming whale, the sharks peeled off to avoid the reach of its tail. But he approached within a few feet of the flukes, then hacked through the four harpoon lines that had endured—at least six others had torn. The ropes were reeled in, and he hitched a ride on the last one.
The whale stroked away, shadowed by dorsal fins. Then she spouted and raised her flukes—either in threat or leave-taking—and dove. She did not resurface.
The Lamalerans set about improvising what repairs they could. The crew of Kéna Pukã winched ropes around its prow, squeezing the boards tight enough to prevent it from taking on more water. It could support a skeleton crew. But even though Kebako Pukã and Kelulus were similarly salvaged, they were only able to buoy Frans and a few other diehards to bail them. Those ships’ crews mostly loaded into Kéna Pukã, though one man joined Téti Heri. Then the whalers lashed the fleet into a line, with Téti Heri followed by Kéna Pukã, both towing the foundering Kelulus and Kebako Pukã. Abandoning the damaged téna was never discussed, for the Lamalerans believe the whaling ships have spirits just as men do. Frans felt that Kelulus and Kéna Pukã,
- "A vital, immersive, and elegant debut...With glittering prose and a novelist's knack for storytelling, Clark carries readers to the heart of this community...Reminiscent of Anne Fadiman's The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, Clark's book intimately details, with empathy and grace, the tribe's value system and the physical world on which they depend...We often think of indigenous groups as living in remote locations, on the edges of the modern world, but Clark reverses this proposition, using the stories of these whalers to help us understand just what it looks like when the earth reaches carrying capacity and how humans might in turn respond."—Elizabeth Rush, New York Times Book Review
- "An immersive, densely reported, and altogether remarkable first book...The story has the texture and coloring of a first-rate novel...Clark's writing is supple but unshowy...He closely tracks the lives of many Lamalerans, male and female, young and old, and he weaves their stories together with a history of the tribe and its beliefs. He manages to make this tribe's dilemmas universal -- no small feat...Clark brings empathy and literary skill to bear. This is a humbly told book, one in which the author's first-person voice does not intrude. This humility gives the book an organic and resonant propulsion. Accumulated tensions are only slowly released. Scenes are delivered, not summaries. This book earns its emotions...You finish The Last Whalers with hope for the Lamalerans, and hope that Clark writes many more books."—Dwight Garner, New York Times
- "An immersive and absorbing chronicle that takes the reader deep into the lives of this tribe and is told with a richness of interior detail that renders their lives, and the choices they face, not just comprehensible but somehow familiar...Clark's writing about the ocean and its creatures is superb, so vivid that the reader can feel the sting of salt water up the nose...The magic in this work is Clark's decision to cede the story over to the Lamalerans themselves. In doing so, he captures the drama of the tribe as it attempts to navigate new opportunities that, while enticing, may bring about the extinction of their culture...Whether that culture will, in the end, withstand mounting pressures from the outside remains to be seen. If it doesn't, The Last Whalers will at least document all that has been lost."—Gabriel Thompson, San Francisco Chronicle
- "A fascinating debut...Accessible and empathetic...Clark creates a thoughtful look at the precariousness of cultural values and the lure of modernization in the developing world."—Publishers Weekly
- "A gripping story of a community struggling for its very survival, and of the clash between ancient and modern worlds. Clark has a graceful, almost poetic writing style, and his vivid portrait of the Lamalerans and their way of life evokes in the reader a stirring image of a lost world, an ancient society that has somehow stayed virtually untouched by the march of time...until now."—David Pitt, Booklist
- "A forceful debut...Clark's prose soars...Furthermore, his sympathy for and devotion to his subjects is real: he speaks both Indonesian and Lamaleran and fosters an intimacy that allows him to disappear entirely in the telling of their story. He brings us into his characters' lives, showing us the rhythms of Lamalera and the day-to-day tensions the villagers face...Clark successfully depicts these people in their full human complexity rather than as primitive tropes...His finely wrought, deeply reported, and highly empathetic account is a human-level testament to dignity in the face of loss and a stoic adherence to cultural inheritance in the face of a rapidly changing world."—Tim Sohn, Outside Magazine
- "Doug Bock Clark has delivered us an amazing account of an almost mythological fight--man versus leviathan--and in vivid prose he reveals the most profound truths about both how strong we are and how fragile we are. Part journalism, part anthropology, The Last Whalers is a spectacular and deeply empathetic attempt to understand a vanishing world. I absolutely loved this magnificent book."—Sebastian Junger, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Tribe and The Perfect Storm
- "The Last Whalers is a monumental achievement. With luminous writing and expert reporting, Doug Bock Clark provides a rare view into our shared human past, from exhilarating whale hunts to intimate family dramas. In doing so, he reveals the complex lives of men and women whose ancient culture teeters between the eternal teachings of the Ancestors and the pressures and enticements of modernity."—Mitchell Zuckoff, #1 New York Times bestselling author of 13 Hours and Lost in Shangri-La
- "The Last Whalers is a true work of art. This lyrically written and richly observed book not only tells of the Lamalerans' spectacular feats of seamanship, but also demonstrates, with heartrending power, what all of us will lose when the march of modernity touches humanity's final tradition-ruled outposts."—Michael Finkel, New York Times bestselling author of The Stranger in the Woods
- "The Last Whalers is an intimate and moving account of cultural extinction told on a profoundly human scale, an urgent and affecting plea for understanding and preserving our myriad identities and traditions before they become forever lost on the relentless road toward a monocultural world."—Francisco Cantú, author of the New York Times bestseller and #1 Indie Next pick The Line Becomes a River
- "The Last Whalers is an extraordinary feat of reportage and illumination. It introduces a remote community and an endangered way of life, but it refuses to pander to familiar tropes of the exotic, instead bringing its subjects to the page in all their glorious complexity--in all their longing, triumphs, frustrations, and joys. Its gaze is global and intimate at once, tirelessly attuned to the tidal forces and subtle eddies of what it means to be alive."—Leslie Jamison, New York Times bestselling author of The Recovering and The Empathy Exams
- "Equal parts rollicking adventure and careful anthropology, The Last Whalers opened up a fresh and fascinating world to me. From the very first lines, I was riveted."—Robert Moor, New York Times bestselling author of On Trails: An Exploration
- "This is an important book. The Last Whalers pays a muscular and compassionate witness to our odyssey of being human at the time of the Anthropocene. It is an investigation into our complexities, our desires and boundaries and contradictions--what the book's heroes, the Lamalerans, aptly call 'a typhoon of life.'"—Anna Badkhen, author of Walking with Abel: Journeys with the Nomads of the African Savannah
- "Doug Bock Clark's remarkable, gorgeously written account of tribal honor, love, and sacrifice among hunter-gatherers reminds us in this age of breakneck development that the disappearance of indigenous societies diminishes us all."—Bronwen Dickey, New York Times bestselling author of Pit Bull: The Battle over an American Icon
- "This is a brilliant, exciting, and terrifying story that reveals the hidden world of Indonesian islanders who find themselves trapped between past and future--between hunting whales with bamboo spears to survive and an outside world poised to wipe them out."—Jack Hitt, author of Off the Road: A Modern-Day Walk Down the Pilgrim's Route into Spain
- On Sale
- Oct 22, 2019
- Page Count
- 368 pages
- Back Bay Books