Naturalcultural encounters in Bali: Monkeys, Temples, Tourists, and Ethnoprimatology

Peer Reviewed


Examining the interface between humans and other primates can illuminate how interspecies relationships create and maintain complex social and ecological spaces. Humans and macaque monkeys share ecologies that include cultural, historical, and physiological dimensions. In this essay, I examine such ecologies while undertaking an ethnoprimatological project in Bali, Indonesia. This multispecies ethnography of humans and macaques demonstrates that human perceptions and land use intertwine with macaque social behavior and pathogen physiologies to affect local ecologies and economies for both species. In these contact zones where any clear boundary separating nature/culture is difficult to discern, I use the concept of “niche construction” and an ethnoprimatological lens to explore and understand these relationships. This article also serves as an invitation to move an ethnoprimatological approach away from the periphery and into a broader primatological and anthropological engagement with naturalcultural relations.

Agustin Fuentes, Untitled. November 2010.

Editorial Overview

In the November 2010 issue of Cultural Anthropology, Agustin Fuentes describes the work of ethnoprimatologists working in Bali, collaborative researchers who are conducting transdisciplinary studies in a traditional field. "Naturalcultural Encounters in Bali: Monkeys, Temples, Tourists, and Ethnoprimatology" makes visible interspecies relationships between humans and macaques, showing the cultural, historical, and physiological dimensions of shared ecology. By making sense of multispecies interactions within mutual ecologies, ethnoprimatologists, Fuentes argues, have much to contribute to contemporary understandings of environmental change. Moreover, the work of ethnoprimatologists helps to dismantle old epistemological boundaries within sociocultural research. Bringing multispecies ethnography to his own ethnoprimalogical study, Fuentes opens perceptions and paradigms, stating that we "should move past the notion of definitive discrete distinctions in favor of fluid and reciprocating interfaces that change over time creating spaces, bodies, and niches of relevance to our understanding of human animal and the other animal experiences."

Editorial Footnotes

Cultural Anthropology has published a number of essays on human relations to other animals. See, for example, Anand Pandian's “Pastoral Power in the Postcolony: On the Biopolitics of the Criminal Animal in South India” (2008), David McDermott Hughes' “Third Nature: Making Space and Time in the Great Limpopo Conservation Area” (2005), Paul Hanson's “Governmentality, Language Ideology, and the Production of Needs in Malagasy Conservation and Development” (2007), and Celia Lowe's “Making the Monkey: How the Togean Macaque Went from "New Form" to "Endemic Species' in Indonesians' Conservation Biology” (2004).

About the Author

Agustín Fuentes is currently a Professor of Anthropology and the Director of the Institute for Scholarship in the Liberal Arts at the University of Notre Dame. His research and teaching interests include the evolution of complexity in human and primate societies, cooperation and aggression, race and racism, sex and sexuality, and human-animal interactions. Fuentes’ recent published work includes the books Evolution of Human Behavior (Oxford University Press, 2008), Health, Risk, and Adversity (Co-edited, Berghahn press), Core Concepts in Biological Anthropology (McGraw-Hill, 2006) and Primates in Perspective (co-edited, Oxford University Press) and articles such as “The humanity of animals and the animality of humans:  A view from biological anthropology inspired by J.M. Coetzees’ Elizabeth Costello” in American Anthropologist, and “Re-situating Anthropological approaches to the evolution of human behavior” in Anthropology Today.

Agustin Fuentes' University of Note Dame faculty profile

Agustin Fuentes, November 2010.

Relevant Links

Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary

Photos from the Field

All photos by Agustin Fuentes, submitted to Cultural Anthropology in November 2010






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