The Atlantic

What Some of the World’s Last Hunter-Gatherers Have to Say

An ancient saying he learned from his subjects, the Lamalerans, showed the journalist Doug Bock Clark how to tell the story of a tribe with no recorded history.
Source: Doug McLean

By Heart is a series in which authors share and discuss their all-time favorite passages in literature. See entries from Jonathan Franzen, Amy Tan, Khaled Hosseini, and more.

What is lost when a culture disappears? That’s the question at the heart of a new book about the Lamalerans, a tribe of about 1,500 living on a remote, eastern Indonesian island in the Savu Sea. The Lamalerans are one of the last remaining hunter-gatherer groups: For hundreds of years, they have fed themselves by hunting sperm whales, some of the world’s largest mammals, using nothing but small boats and handmade harpoons. But this perilous endeavor—an almost unthinkable feat of coordination, athleticism, and bravery—will probably prove less difficult than resisting the homogenizing forces of the outside world.

The journalist Doug Bock Clark spent months at a time living with the Lamalerans to write : . In a conversation for this series, he explained how one Lamaleran saying—an ancient plea for unity—taught him how to tell the story of a tribe with no recorded

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