by Bramantyo Indirawan
Throughout Bali, humans and monkeys seemingly lived in harmony. People around the world can see it with their own eyes when they visit places such as Uluwatu, Ubud Monkey Forest, and Alas Kedaton with macaca fascicularis or the long-tailed macaque as the species that lived on the Island of Gods. From forests, to temples, to busy streets with passing cars and motorcycles—the primates roam unbothered.
One of the places where macaque flourish is in Alas Kedaton, Tabanan. With a temple in the middle of a forest, the long-tailed mammals are divided into four social groups or “gangs” as the management representative I Wayan Semedi called them. Each group can be identified by their location; open spaces at parking lots, temples, forests, and right into the heart of the forest where monkeys bury their fallen kind.
“Monkeys are known as duwe or holy animal in this area,” said Semedi. That is why they can roam freely even in sacred sites such as the temple where not everyone can enter. The temple in Alas Kedaton named Pura Dalem Kahyangan Kedaton also provides a space for monkeys that go on about their way—climbing every corner of the temple including the structures of the praying places of peace.
Travelling to Alas Kedaton, macaque can be seen even before we arrive at the parking lot. On the road they seemingly greet those who arrive, passing by rice fields that reflect Bali’s image, before entering their sanctuary. Like any other tourist spots, shops are erected everywhere. Everyone can take a guide with them, buy some food to feed the primates, and after a scenic route through the temple, we can have our picture taken either with the monkeys or with giant bats that also inhabit the forest—of course this all comes with a fee.
Tri Hita Karana and Coexistence
Alas Kedaton commercialized itself in the 1980s by selling tickets to those who came to seek the monkeys. The revenue created parking spots for visitors and sustainable care for the temples including its long-tailed inhabitants. Semedi and others must provide a large amount of fruit and vegetables for the monkeys to eat, and the money is used to buy the necessary quota from outside Bali.
In Bali, the philosophy of life is Tri Hita Karana, a sanskrit term that can be translated to three causes of well-being or prosperity. Balance by respecting others must be made in the relation of human to human, human to nature, and human to God. At a glance the phenomenon in Alas Kedaton can be aligned with this concept.
Men respect the monkeys, men also respect God through religious practices in the temple, and men should also respect other men. At the very least, these three tenets are practiced by the Balinese or those who manage Alas Kedaton, but tourists that come from all over the world do not know or even care about Tri Hita Karana.
Semedi said that tourists who came to Alas Kedaton are told to leave the monkeys at peace, restricting those who want to bother the long-tailed inhabitants. For example, if we want to feed them, it is better to just give it straight to them without playing tricks such as hiding the food or baiting the mammal who has a lifespan from 15 to 30 years.
Although indirectly, visitors are expected to follow Tri Hita Karana and those who work in Alas Kedaton will try to ensure it. If we use a guide, they will tell us to respect the animals, but ignorance can happen if we just wander alone without taking a guide or even being bothered to ask the rules to people who work in this sanctuary. Other than that, blind spots also exist, which can create possibilities for people to litter and disturb the monkeys.
Further understanding must be made to show the true nature of the relationship between humans and monkeys. According to Dictionary.cambridge.org, coexistence is “the fact of living or existing together at the same time or in the same place.” The same definition can also be found in Oxforddictionaries.com, “by being a state or fact of living or existing at the same time or in the same place.”
As Mutsunori Takeshi wrote in Species Coexist: Ecological and Evolutionary Perspectives (1996), species do co-exist and it is a remarkably accurate description of the natural world. “Coexistence is the gist of life on Earth,” as the biologist stated in the book. Humans or Homo sapiens are one of the species that inhabit this Earth and coexist with other species. Living with house pets such as dogs and cats, insects that hide beneath living quarters in big cities, to rural places both large and small that cherish animal presence. On the context of men and monkeys in Bali, they simply live side by side or in other words, coexist.
It is important to know that coexistence does not necessarily always means peaceful living for all species involved. It can be positive, negative, or a mixture of both as with all the dualities in life—just like saput poleng, a black and white blanket wrapped around ornaments in Bali to symbolise mutual dualism. Animals can be a pest to humans, but at the same time they can also be useful. For instance, if we see the bigger picture, even pests can contribute to the circle of life by being a part of the food chain.
A native of Southeast Asia, the long-tailed macaque can also pose a threat to humans. As written in Introduced Mammals of the World: Their History, Distribution, and Influence (2003), they can alternately be agricultural pests. A 2012 research study made in Kuala Selangor National Park, Malaysia described the monkeys as pests that frequently steal items from homes, particularly food, and often rubbish from the garbage cans. The macaques also took fruit from the plantations—signifying their pest behaviours that are related to the locating and obtaining of food.
In the process of human-wildlife interaction, conflict is inevitable as Philip J. Nhylus wrote in the Annual Review of Environment and Resources titled Human-Wildlife Conflict and Coexistence (2016). Threats posed by wildlife can affect human life, economic security, and recreation. Human-wildlife conflict can also be described as the perception that wildlife threatens human safety, food, and property.
In Alas Kedaton, housing and rice fields are near the macaque’s sanctuary that consists of temples and forest. Alternately known as pests, we could assume that the long-tailed monkeys would raid and steal food from homes and plantation just like they did in Kuala Selangor National Park. But no, the holy beast of Bali does not pose a threat to humans in terms of food.
The truth is, Alas Kedaton and other places in Bali like Padangtegal-Ubud, Uluwatu, Sangeh, and Pulaki, are established tourism sites that have large-scale provisioning of food by some paid staff. As Indonesia Primates (2010) wrote in Chapter 13, ” the smaller, more transient populations, such as Selumbung and Kuning, are located in areas where provisioning occurs only during temple ceremonies and macaques there are often considered pests by local villagers.”
The routine of giving them food made them apparently tame—at the very least not considered as pests. Maintaining the correct amount of provision can be one of the determining factors that remove the pest behaviours in macaques.
Temple presence can also differentiate the long-tailed macaques in Alas Kedaton with others. “In large temple sites with organized management teams, provisioning has transitioned from simple offerings, comprised of flowers, eggs, and locally available fruits and nuts, to large scale, routine feedings of carrots, potato, and sweet potato.” A progressive feeding was made by each temple management and tourists can also feed the monkeys.
Problems do arise however, as organized provisioning can lead to macaque’s obesity and a change in it’s social dynamics. For example, they tend to travel less and spend more time feeding and resting as a result of decreased pressure to locate and obtain food.
There are also cases where the monkeys develop a skill to steal from humans in return for food in Uluwatu. Although not considered a pest, a monkey mafia can be used to describe their robbing and bartering tendencies, such as Newscientist.com termed in their article.
Humans in Alas Kedaton and areas surrounding it also receive benefits from the long-tailed macaques presence. “In addition to the direct benefit from voluntary donations or entry fees, the community benefits economically from the influx of money spent in restaurants, shops, hotels, and taxi-stands,” as Indonesia Primates (2010) stated.
The coexistence of men and macaques in Alas Kedaton is beneficial for both parties. It changes behaviour of both species and certainly affects the natural world around them.
Yes, they coexist as in the simplest term to live side by side. But beyond coexistence, they interact with routines that can be seen as an endless loop of dependency—either the wheel perpetually moves or eventually breaks.
Any scenario could happen, if the monkeys population keeps increasing to an overwhelming rate, then automatically more food is needed for their provision. This can affect the supply and demand for food, when Alas Kedaton or even Bali cannot provide food supplies for the monkeys, not only in terms of quantity but also an agreeable budget, expansion would be made by buying supplies from other cities or places outside Bali; a current fact in Alas Kedaton provision practices.
We can argue that respecting nature as one of the points in Tri Hita Karana is in sync with coexistence, whether it’s seen as a positive or negative human-wildlife interaction. But we also should ask ourselves, does the dependency of men and macaques in Alas Kedaton shows “respect” just as the philosophy intended it to be?
Author: Bramantyo Indirawan
Freelance Journalist and Writer