Balinese Monkey Chanting is something that someone told me about once. I think they even offered me a small demonstration (to the best of their ability). I loved the idea, and it stayed in the back of my mind for a couple of years. Last night, the monkey reared its head, and I found myself compelled to start googling for everything I could find; video (below), audio (courtesy ubuweb ethnopoetics), and workshops (apparently your best bet outside Bali is Seattle or burning man). Unfortunately, noone on the internet seems to know all that much about Ketjak, and everyone seems to be quoting the same sources, and it is hard to get to the original knowledge. Any way, here is what I could gather.
I was suprised to find that the monkey chant was a product of the 20th century, I expected it to be much older. Apparently it has roots in a much older Balinese Exorcism Ritual, but the monkey chant proper is from the 1930s. Which brings me to my next misconceptions. I believed that monkey chanting was a somewhat random affair, perhaps with a conductor to guide the experience of shrieking and howling, but still very open to inprovisation and play. What I learned is that Ketjak is a scripted piece. It is a reinactment/retelling of the Ramayana focusing on the battle between the monkeys and the demons, and perhaps, told from their perspective. As the chorus chants, they sway and wave their hands, sometimes chanting together, sometimes dividing in two groups and chanting at each other. Occasionally a figure such as Ravana will pop up, and he will be chanted at (exorcized?)
As a practice it seems that it must provide an extremely invigorating, and trance inducing experience. It is said that it takes participants white alot of time to ‘come down’ from monkey chanting. The ritual choreography also creates an interesting experience of group mind, perhaps the same kind of group mind that Hanuman’s Monkey Army experienced when they went to war in Lanka. I am always amazed at the practices that evolve out of devotion and a longing to understand and feel close to their chosen dieties. Ketjak appears to be a powerful tool for creating a certain bhava, or divine mood; a mood that allows one to feel the epic of the Ramayana play out inside the body. We are so lucky that human creativity is able to meet the challanges put forth by the very human need for divine connection, be it with yoga asana, kirtan, vedic chant, or ketjak.
video is from the movie Baraka, which is excellent.