Indonesia: "Monkey Mask Show" (big photo gallery)

A trained monkey wears a mask, above, and looks at himself in a mirror, below during a Topeng Monyet (Monkey Mask) show, a traditional Indonesian street performance, in east Jakarta April 25, 2011. Karmini, a monkey trainer who has four trained monkeys, said his group can collect $10 a day for their performance. While the practice is described as "traditional," and viewed fondly by some, others in Indonesia consider it a cruel abuse of animal rights. Here is a 2008 op-ed in the Jakarta Post expressing that view. More photos follow, including one that shows the performing monkey's dwelling, where he lives with his owner/trainer.
(all images via REUTERS/Beawiharta)










  1. Two things I find incredibly creepy:

    Old dolls.

    Thank you for introducing me to a new kind of hell and giving me a reason to down 10 “5 hour energy” drinks.

    1. Totally. I feel so sad for these cute, intelligent, terribly exploited little beings, who are so much like us humans.

    1. It’s weird how the chain makes it all seem worse, even though it probably isn’t much less comfortable than your average dog leash.

      1. I don’t know. Apart from the fact that many dogs (at least over here) get lots of leash-free time, even during walks – I certainly see up to 20 or 30 each day, many seem to switch away from the collar (and a leather collar would certainly be less uncomfortable as a metal one) and using a harness instead.

      2. I guess it’s that the because they have human characteristics, the leash conjures images of slavery or imprisonment.

    2. Agreed. I have no issue with training monkeys to perform etc. IF they are well treated. If they are caged, chained, abused etc, no way.

  2. Those are long tail Macaques, which are very common in Indonesia. They do quite well in captivity and are easy to train, unlike some of their cousins. While cute and indeed entertaining, the real problem lies with the lesson it teaches people, That animals are just toys we can exploit for our entertainment. Sadly it’s older cousin the Orangutan is being decimated in Indonesia. They are kept illegally as pets and most of them die quite young. Palm l plantations stretch as far as the eye can see, where only a decade ago was lush tropical forest.

    A brand new IMAX film is out in theaters nationwide that reflects on this issue, “Born to Be Wild 3D”. I work with Orangutan Foundation International, and we are currently taking care of over 300 orphaned orangutans in Indonesia, until they are old enough to be released back into the wild. The film focuses on the dedication of two truly extraordinary women, Dr Birute Galdikas, who created Orangutan Foundation International, and Dame Daphney Sheldrick who has been working tirelessly to save the African elephant from extinction. It is a wonderful film and a Morgan Freeman Narrates, it is full of WIN!!!

  3. The macaques are endearingly pathetic, but it’s the shoes in the third photo that haunt me.

  4. Worrying about the exploitation of a monkey in India is like worrying about the grass in a forced labor camp. Especially because monkeys exploit the shit out of each other.

    1. Yeah. We are only obligated to act in accordance with the highest ethical norms of circus monkeys. You obviously know your Kant inside and out.

  5. I’m going to go out on a limb here, and posit this: if the chains in these pictures were being held by Juggalos instead of Indonesian slum dwellers, the level of outrage expressed here would be just a leeeeeetle bit more pronounced. Funny, innit?

    1. Good point. A Juggalo could be holding the cure to cancer in one hand and a free Oreo Blizzard in the other and I’d still say fuck that guy.

  6. WTF?!?! These are the SCARIEST and CREEPIEST monkeys i’ve ever seen.

    In terms of exploitation – as long as their owners feed them and don’t beat them, I don’t understand outrage at having them entertain. I haven’t seen many dog shows picketed for exploitive acts, or people protesting shelters that adopt out dogs and cats for caging animals.

    1. Ah, jonathan_v, do you not understand the idea of caging shelter dogs to prevent them from fighting, and to protect the humans who would need to break up those fights?

      And FWIW, the no-kill cat shelter my wife and I are affiliated with cages only the newcomers to the shelter, until they are medically sound and well adjusted. Most of the 200 cats roam around freely.

      Dog shows, well… I think you can scarcely find animals who have closer human companionship, better nutrition and more elaborate veterinary care. What do you think about the living conditions of the monkeys in this photo essay? Imagine they get even Purina Monkey Chow?

  7. My sage wife — wiser than me — points out that there is no such thing, of course, as a domesticated monkey.

  8. I’m not sure how much worse off these primates are than the people who assemble our electronic gadgets in Asian sweatshops for fifty cents an hour. I guess at least the chains on the latter aren’t literal, for what that’s worth.

  9. Oh sayang..!

    I have seen these trained topeng monkeys in Indonesia. I was with a group and we paused to look at the monkey spectacle and one of my friends bent at the knee to look closer. The monkey went up to my friend and laid it’s head on his knee. Truly heartbreaking.

    But I suppose when you consider the limited options for a lot of people to make a living, training a monkey and making up to $10 a day would be motivation enough.

  10. That’s the price you’re paying for supporting Third World tyrants for their acceptable political stance, their abundance natural resources, cheap products at Walmart, and other fodders for your let’s-her-rip, run-away capitalist business model which, in recent time, has turned around to nip you in the butt.

    I feel bad for both monkeys and trainer because they endure similarly crappy lives.

  11. Hi, journalist living in Jakarta here. I have long been disturbed by these creepy critters. I don’t know any Indonesians that are fans of these shows, and animal rights activists here have been working hard to stop the exploitation.

    The good news is that, even in the few years I’ve been here, I’ve seen their numbers decrease greatly, so progress is being made.

    Here’s a recent, in-depth article my paper did about the cruel training the monkeys face, which often results in their deaths. It also describes how these macaques contribute to the livelihoods of a lot of desperately poor people. Heartbreaking stuff all around.

  12. “A Juggalo could be holding the cure to cancer in one hand and a free Oreo Blizzard in the other and I’d still say fuck that guy.”

    Hopefully AFTER liberating the aforementioned items!

    (yes, I iz a juggalo hater — can ya’ tell?)

  13. Wait a minute. There is such a thing as “Purina Monkey Chow”? I’m trying to plan my retirement.

    I came to partial agreement with the PETA platform from an unusual direction; I spent a long time locked away in a rather unpleasant prison. It occurred to me after that experience that as a human, I at least always knew exactly why I was there and that I would get out someday if I could survive. The animal does not. Circuses are -always- wrong no matter if it’s a monkey on a sidewalk or 20 elephants under the big top. These animals are prisoners, not entertainers or pets. It’s not a matter of “loving” animals in general or some particular species enough to think its wrong to treat them this way; rather we should realize we don’t have the right to keep a living prisoner and force them to “entertain” us.

  14. I’m glad I can be outraged about this just in time to forget about it in like three hours.

    rixter: that story has already been written. google.

  15. Watching trained apes on the TV used to really piss me off.

    My friend taunted me: “Monkey FUNNY!! Like human. . .but not!”

    And so: facinating creatures. That we exploit for our amusement.

    Chained monkey=bad. Chained human. . .worse?

    All I know is that the only ‘chain’ I have to worry about is the food kind: and lo and behold I’m right at the top! In the last 48 hours I’ve eaten a chicken I didn’t pluck, part of a cow I didn’t butcher and fish I did not have to catch.

    Yay for me. The love and sympathy I have for the poor animals is matched by the love and sympathy I have for the poor humans that needs must exploit them: having a hungry family is a powerful motivation to turn a blind eye to the suffering of our fellow creatures.

    Needless to say the l. and s. is equally matched by impotent rage and sneering contempt at a world so arbitrary and inequitable. . .

    yikes. . .too negative. I’m going outside and feeding the birds now. No monkeys though. . .pity.

  16. Although I’m disgusted and horrified by monkeys being treated this way, let’s not romanticize them. I’d rather visit the Valley of the Giant Spiders than anyplace that has a lot of wild monkeys running around.

Comments are closed.