Sacred Monkey Theives

Kuta, Bali, Indonesia

The Balinese have an odd relationship with their monkeys.

On the one side, they are considered sacred (and therefore protected and allowed to live where they want) for their ability to ward off evil spirits from the temples they inhabit.


20120310E - Monkey Forrest walk around Ubud (31)

…and that’s good.  Because those temples are pretty amazing

On the other hand, they raid rice paddies for food and snatch the tourists’ purses, wallets – pretty much anything they can get their hands on.

…which is kinda bad.

Monkeys as a force of good and bad is nothing overly new to the Balinese.  Even in one of their epic poems, the Ramayana, the monkey king helps the good guys save the kidnapped princess…

He just does it, as was demonstrated to us in the reenactment, with his own comparatively “unique style”

Moral of the story – for causing mayhem & chasing off demons, pretty much the monkey king is your go to guy…or monkey.  You get the idea.

Also, to be fair, the Balinese warn you right upfront when you enter a temple.  They tell you to put on a sarong (cultural thing) and take off your sunglasses, watches and anything else that is shiny or in some way detachable.  You’re supposed to put it all into a bag or purse and loop it satchel-style over your head.  Otherwise a sacred temple monkey will be very quickly blessing you by relieving you of any material burden not tied down to your person.

Want to use your camera?  Hold on tight and better make good use of that retention strap.  Otherwise the last picture you take – but never see –  will be of a “cute little monkey who came up to say hi…”


Of course, you can not attack, chase or otherwise harass the sacred temple monkeys.  Again, they are there to keep the evil spirits away.  There are even have handlers around who make sure you don’t disturb the thieving little sacred guardians.  Now these handlers aren’t just there to keep you from throttling monkeys, they actually do try to help by trading the monkeys a banana piece if they will let go of whatever they stole.

Obviously, the monkeys figured out pretty quick some very important facts of life at the temple:

1)      Tourists are gullible

2)      Monkeys are immune to retaliation

3)      Anything they snatch = free banana

As you might guess, this results in the same scenario playing out, again and again, with each new batch of tourists.  And just in case you were wondering what a sacred temple monkey pickpocket looks like, we managed to get a snatch-and-grab on film:

While not the first thieving animals we’ve encountered, at least the monkey’s don’t eat babies.  Unlike a certain other animal we could mention.


About the authors

Greg and Tiffany are traveling around the world on sailing yachts and keep a video blog of their (mis)adventures.  If sailing to Tahiti on a 44 ft sailboat, 3-day delays for wine tastings, getting pooped on by seagulls, opening coconuts with dull machetes, sailing past tornadoes and ukulele Christmas carols are for you, then check them out!

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2 Responses to Sacred Monkey Theives

  1. Great post . . . funny videos. It sure brought back memories of my days in Bali.

    When we finished up diving in Bali, we made a side trip to Ubu to visit the Sacred Monkey Forest. What a trip! Upon entering the forest, signs were posted everywhere . . . DO NOT FEED MONKEYS. However, in true Indonesian style, the vendors were by the dozens selling everything including bananas for the you know who? Two Japanese ladies had a bundle of bananas with every good intention of just feeding the monkeys one at a time. However the monkeys would have none of that nonsense . . . and proceeded to jump on the lady holding this bunch of bananas. You know where this story is going? Right? She was so frighten, she lost her grip on the bananas, and the monkey thief made off with the whole bundle of bananas, screeching all the way.

    Those monkeys are vicious little creatures . . . one of the members of our diving group was bitten.

  2. Trausti Þrastarson says:

    Funn to read and love the photo’s at the moment I’m in borneo malasia reli nice place and I hope ilbe in bali by November then I can chek out this monkeys haha

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