Friday, July 18, 2008

Isn't That Monkey Cute?

When my experience with monkeys was limited to watching them play at the zoo or seeing them on TV, I thought they were cute and totally harmless. Monkeys are sweet tempered, little furry creatures that love bananas and swing from trees. Right? They’re intelligent and have opposing thumbs. They groom and hug each other. Certainly. In the movies they dance to the organ grinders tune. They’re so much like people; wouldn’t they make a great pet? Aren’t they adorable?

As we all know, here in the states the zoos keep monkeys and humans firmly separated. I never gave the glass, wire or bars much thought. After all, that’s what zoos are. What the keepers don’t tell you is that monkeys love shiny objects. They have a passion for jewelry and wire rimmed glasses. They also have incredibly long, sharp fingernails designed by Mother Nature to grip tree bark and find food. Those nails can rip through flesh like a hot knife through butter. When a monkey sees something he wants, it doesn’t ask permission. The results can be severe.

The monkey forests in Bali are quasi tourist attractions that are fully functioning religious temples. As the story goes, the monkeys came and set up house after the temples were built. For this reason, these monkeys are considered sacred. To be clear, not all monkeys are sacred, it’s only the animals that took up residence on the temple grounds.

These agile animals don’t live in cages or behind glass. They’re free to roam and wander as they have since the dawn of time. These grey monkeys consider the temple, and the grounds, their habitat. To visit them, is to enter their home.

We wandered through the entrance to the Alas Kedaton Monkey Forest, and noticed our first monkey. He was sitting there like a sentinel watching the people go by.

As a tourist in front of us passed him by, that monkey took a wild leap and landed right on his back. The poor guy started twisting and turning and shouting, “oh, oh, oh!” Despite his massive contortions, that monkey would not let go. The tourist’s wife started screaming and a local came running. After some coaxing with a piece of banana, the animal finally let go of his ride and scampered off.

This was an up-close look at what it truly means to “have a monkey on your back.” It’s not pleasant. It’s terrifying, impossible to dislodge without help, and potentially lethal.

Sometimes life gives us clear and distinct choices. If it weren’t for the adequate assurances from my companions I probably would have retreated back to the car. Instead, I stowed all shiny objects, took a deep breath and walked on. We entered the forest filled with hundreds of monkeys. We strolled the paths and kept a very wary eye on our surroundings. After all was said and done, we returned to the car unscathed.

I was glad I took those steps forward instead of retreating back to the car. I could say it was a lesson in overcoming fear or persevering through adversity. To claim that though, would be a lie.

The Monkey Forest thoroughly dislodged the fantasy that monkeys are cuddly and harmless. The experience gave me a healthy, if not wary, respect for primates. The experience also opened up a different perspective about humans fitting into nature as a whole.

Generally, we look at the animals through glass or from the safety of our TV and think they’re cute, cuddly and adorable. We make squishy, plush animal toys and give them to our children to sleep with. From our sheltered and arrogant perspective, we Westerners seem to think nature is helpless and frail. We think Mother Nature needs a knight in shining armour to save the day.

Mother Nature isn’t the soft and helpless waif depicted in the fairy tales. She’s incredibly resilient. She's a tough and beautiful old bird that will survive long after we’re gone.

Temple wall worn down from monkeys dragging their tails as they pass by.

1 comment:

grrrr said...

Looks like those monkeys have it made in the shade with a breeze blowing.