It's safe to say most of us are fascinated by animals; so different in shape and stature to us humans. To this day, we are still amazed by their uniqueness. So why would we want to enslave and force them to behave just like us? Such is the case of Indonesia’s dancing monkeys. 


Growing up and living in Indonesia, we’ve always been taught that our country is one of the most diverse when it comes to flora and fauna. This undoubtedly influences the ages of cultural history, back from the days of animism-dynamism beliefs and even until this very day. 


Animals in particular have a very strong presence in Indonesian culture, archived in most of our artifacts and artwork. One, in particular, the monkey, holds a special place in our hearts as one who is considered a close relative to us humans as primates. However, what we’ve done instead is condemn them to an unwanted occupation of dancing in the streets. 


Macaque monkeys are found all over Indonesia, with seven distinct species living on the island of Sulawesi alone, though sadly most are now on the brink of extinction. What was once a vast home to these macaques has now been bombarded with human intervention; development of roads, industries, and plantations being the main causes. It is because of the aggressive invasion of their natural homes, the macaques are now viewed as pests, often subject to being hunted for meat or an equally worse fate of enslavement as dancing monkeys (known as “topeng monyet”). 


Imitation: The Cruelest Form of Entertainment 


Though physically similar to humans, Macaques used as dancing monkeys actually behave nothing like us; at least not in the way that they’re made to when performing. As Old World Monkeys that walk on all fours, the first thing they’re trained to do is stand on two feet. This is done by putting short chains on the monkeys’ necks, forcing them to stay standing or else they will choke. Their arms are also tied behind their backs to avoid any grabbing and climbing to loosen the choking chain. 


The more they are forced to behave like humans, the more cruelty is required. Macaques are forced to ride bikes, wear full-face masks, and perform dances all while being subject to the sound of banging percussions played aloud. All this while being yanked on a chain and wearing clothes or costumes. None of this comes naturally to a Macaque (or any other animal!), who are used to living in serene forests and their own social groups. When captured for human economic gain, they are seen as tools to be abused in any way for the sake of entertainment. 


Wild Animals Stay Wild


Macaques born as wild animals are equipped with much-needed instincts for survival, which often include attacking other animals. Earlier this year, a viral video of a dancing monkey attacking a small child surfaced on the internet, sparking outrage from viewers. However, it also triggered people to re-think the necessity of such forms of entertainment, since using wild animals in acts has its consequences.  


There is no amount of training that can guarantee total obedience to wild animals. If anything, being exposed to even more stress from training and a new environment makes the animals even more prone to retaliating on those around them. What makes things even sadder is that the more these animals show their natural reactions by acting on instinct, they are punished even more. 


As animals used to being out in the wild, Macaques as dancing monkeys are also a health threat towards humans. Kept in small cages that are not even cleaned out, the Macaques often contract parasites and diseases such as tuberculosis, hepatitis, and leptospirosis. This hazard towards health seemed to be what finally caught the attention of the government to implement a city-wide ban on dancing monkeys in Jakarta. 


Build up the Ban! 


Jakarta as a capital city is seen as the number one destination for chasing economic gain. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that the city was at one time filled with dancing monkey acts, with many people exploiting Macaques to entertain citizens. There was even a “Monkey Village” in East Jakarta that specialized in producing dancing monkey trainers. The issue of animal cruelty in the form of dancing monkeys was brought up by Jakarta Animal Aid Network since 2009, and a ban was finally implemented for Jakarta by the end of 2013. 


Unfortunately, operations of confiscating dancing monkeys are still in place, meaning that the practice is still being done illegally here and there. Though there may still be many minds to convince, more and more people are realizing the cruel reality behind the once-favorited street act. Rescue and rehabilitation operations continue to be run by animal rights groups and activists, but in order to work effectively, the ban needs to be spread out and enforced even more.


Photo by Andre Mouton from Pexels