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'Remarkable... a rich, novelistic account based on diligent reporting ... An empathetic, even intimate account, but not a dewy-eyed one ... Wonderful' Daily Telegraph
'I absolutely loved this magnificent book' Sebastian Junger
'A monumental achievement' Mitchell Zuckoff
'[An] immersive, densely reported and altogether remarkable first book ... The Last Whalers has the texture and colouring of a first-rate novel' New York Times
At a time when global change has eradicated thousands of unique cultures, The Last Whalers tells the stunning inside story of the Lamalerans, an ancient tribe of 1,500 hunter-gatherers who live on a volcanic island so remote it is known by other Indonesians as "The Land Left Behind." They have survived for centuries by taking whales with bamboo harpoons, but now are being pushed toward collapse by the encroachment of the modern world.
Award-winning journalist Doug Bock Clark, who lived with the Lamalerans across three years, weaves together their stories with novelistic flair to usher us inside this hidden drama. Jon, an orphaned apprentice whaler, strives to earn his harpoon and feed his ailing grandparents. Ika, Jon's indomitable younger sister, struggles to forge a modern life in a tradition-bound culture and realize a star-crossed love. Ignatius, a legendary harpooner entering retirement, labors to hand down the Ways of the Ancestors to his son, Ben, who would rather become a DJ in the distant tourist mecca of Bali.
With brilliant, breathtaking prose and empathetic, fast-paced storytelling, Clark details how the fragile dreams of one of the world's dwindling indigenous peoples are colliding with the irresistible upheavals of our rapidly transforming world, and delivers to us a group of families we will never forget.
In this fascinating debut, journalist Clark offers an account of a small hunter-gatherer society, the Lamalerans, devoted to whaling on the remote Indonesian island of Lembata. On his first visit to the Lamalerans' village in 2011, Clark realized the Ways of the Ancestors "a set of whaling and religious practices handed down through the generations" still defined indigenous life there. Wondering how much longer these ancient traditions could last, Clark returned to Lembata several times in subsequent years, aiming to "immerse myself as deeply as possible in the tribe." To that end, he hunted, wove ropes, spearfished, attended ceremonies, and bartered at the village market alongside the Lamalerans. With accessible and empathetic prose, Clark profiles the people he met there, such as Yonanes "Jon" Demon Hariona, a young man who aspires to become a "lamafa," or harpooner, his society's highest honor, yet also toys with the idea of seeking "a richer and easier life elsewhere," away from his community. By exploring personal conflicts like Jon's, Clark creates a thoughtful look at the precariousness of cultural values and the lure of modernization in the developing world.)\n