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Primal Years

The People of Ubud, Bali Host a Birthday Party for the Hundreds of Primates Living in the Sacred Monkey Forest.

(2/28/2011) The Bali-Hindu religious calendar has a cycle of holidays, each one dedicated to honoring different elements of our daily life from books, tree and even the vehicles we drive.

On Saturday February 26, 211, the people of Bali marked Rahina Tumpek Kandang Saniscara Kliwon Uye - a day set aside to pay special homage to the hundreds of monkeys that inhabit the "monkey forest" in downtown Ubud. Held biennially according to the Balinese year of 210 days, or once every 420 days, the Otong Bojog ritual is the official birthday party for the monkeys who inhabited the city center forest and generally harass visitors for food and handouts.

This year's ceremony commenced with prayers offered by a Hindu priest at 3:00 pm and was attended by hundreds of monkeys, local officials and a sizable group of curious island visitors. Spread across the ritual altar where bounteous displays of fruits, cakes and other food stuffs that formed the offerings to the gods necessary to re-sanctify the monkey forest and seek the Almighty's blessing on the primates who live there.

Although normally known for their aggressive behavior whenever their food and tourists are about, the hundreds of monkeys watched the ceremony at a respectful distance and only descended on the delicious offerings at the end of the prayers when the essence of the food items had been offered through prayers to the heavens.

Made Dana, the traditional chief of the Padang Tegal community, told Beritabali.com: "The 'Otong Bojog' ceremony, within the framework of 'Tumpek Kadang' (a day to honor animals), represents a part of the local Balinese belief in 'Tri Hita Karana.' A part of 'Tri Hita Karana' requires the maintenance of a balance and harmony between man and nature. This ceremony for the various types of animals that live in the Monkey Forest, and especially for the monkeys, is made so the animals remain healthy and tame. If they are healthy and tame, the tourists will want to come to this place."

When the prayer ceremony had concluded, those in attendance shared raw eggs, a variety of fruits and assorted cakes with the attentive moneys that emerged from the forest to attend the 'birthday party' held in their honor.