The sacred Ubud Monkey Forest in Bali is owned and maintained by residents of Padangtegal Village. Mostly made up by village members, the Padangtegal Wenara Wana Foundation governing council strives to develop and maintain the sacredness of the forest while encouraging international tourism. According to the council, the forest regularly receives about 10,000 visitors every month. Although they are happy with the international recognition and revenues brought about by this number of monthly visitors, the council is worried that the influx of tourists could harm the forest’s natural resources and environs. In 1986, when the forest has just recently opened, only about 800 people bothered to visit every month.
In order to preserve the sacredness and dignity of the Monkey Forest, the foundation aims to educate the people on why the forest is considered sacred, maintain a highly trained staff that is tasked to oversee the daily operations within the forest, and monitor the preservation of the forest’s natural resources.
Why is this forest considered sacred in the first place?
The Balinese people are very devout in their beliefs in deities and religion. Influenced by Indic and Hindu beliefs, they are keen in maintaining the balance of the cosmos by making sure all the temples scattered around the island are well maintained and revered. The Monkey Forest, also known as Wenara Wana, is part of the Pura Dalem (or “Death Temple”). It is one of the three temples that must be well maintained to get read of the evil spirits and promote good health among the people. Under the leadership of their village chief, villagers of Padangtegal are responsible in maintaining Pura Dalem, Wenara Wana, and the other two temples, which are Pura Puseh (“Origin Temple”) and Pura Bale Agung (“Great Council of the Gods”).
The Monkey Forest and Padangtegal Village (also known as “Desa Pakraman Padangtegal”) are located in Ubud, about 20 kilometers away from the capital city of Denpasar. Everybody considers Ubud the cultural and artistic center of Bali. Novice and expert Indonesian artists regularly flock to Ubud for artistic exposure and trainings. The place is littered with major galleries and museums, as well as rivers, hillsides, rainforests and mountains, which aid in the creativity of the locals. The town is very picturesque. Village members are mostly farmers and artists. About 2,500 people live in Padangtegal, which has a total land area of only 1.28 square kilometers.
Finally, the sacred Monkey Forest could not be complete without the stars of the show, the monkeys. According to Balinese Hinduism, these wily primates may represent either good or evil. The epic Indian poem, Ramayana, portrays monkey-like deities both as positive and negative forces. The monkeys specifically living in the sacred forest are believed to have positive forces, primarily because they protect temple sites and ward off evil spirits. Good spirit monkeys are called “barongs”. Village locals, however, observed that some of the monkeys are evil. They are the ones that raid the nearby rice fields and steal items from the souvenir shops.
The monkeys living within Ubud Monkey Forest are long-tailed macaques. They are common in Southeast Asia and are observed to easily adapt living with humans. The Balinese long-tailed macaques, however, are not used to co-exist with people, and so it is necessary to preserve their natural habitat – the sacred forest in Ubud.