Buying tribal art out of context and other traps for young players.

Ever since I saw a shabby little collection of cheap souvenirs from the 1930s onwards, in a showcase at the old Girl Guides headquarters in Sydney, I’ve resolved to buy “nice” pieces when I’m overseas. Instead of buying lots of little tatty things, my wife and I lash out and spend what we think is a fair bit of money for what we consider is something really special.

When we were in Ubud in Bali this year we saw this stone statue and we were immediately drawn to it.

Over a period of about a week we kept on going back to have a look at it.

Ubud is more or less the art centre of Bali and as such is packed with a plethora of galleries. It’s the Santa Fe of  Indonesia, if you will. The items in Ubud run the full gamut, from very cheap and nasty crap, right through to mind blowingly amazing and expensive artworks.

The trouble with buying tribal artefacts in Ubud is that, often the people who are selling the items don’t know anything about them. As a matter of fact you can go into the same store on different days and be told a different story about the same item every day. Sure enough, the Balinese who work in the stores know about the local Balinese artwork, but they can be so clueless when it comes to art that has been brought to them from other parts of Indonesia. We were told that the statue we were interested in was from Sulewesi.

Since getting back home and doing some research on the net, the best guess I can make for the origin of the statue is that it might’ve come from Sumatra and it might’ve been made by the Karo Batak. The statue has design proportions and elements similar in style to those used by the Karo Batak and it might be based on naga marsarang (Medicine Horns) used by Batak datuk (animist priests) to hold magic substances. I also suspect that the creature that I first thought might be a seahorse could actually be a singa (a protective mythological creature).

To be honest though, I don’t really care where the statue comes from, as I like it, and for all I know it could be some pastiche of various Indonesian designs cobbled together by a local sculptor. I would like to know where it comes from because I just hate being ignorant about anything.

A few days before we were to leave Bali, we took the plunge and after some haggling the statue was bought for a bit under half what was asked (which probably 50% more than would we should’ve paid). The Statue is 630mm high (about 24″), 650mm long (about 25 and half inches), 25cm wide (about 11″) and weighs 39kg  (nearly 86 lbs) so we arranged for sea freight to get it back home at a cost of $400 USD. I knew we would be up for customs brokerage fees as well when the statue arrived so I figured that we were up for about another $100 when we picked it up.

WRONG!

I picked up the statue yesterday and on top of the brokerage fees of $130, we had to pay another $93.50 for the delivery order (WTF is it, and does it mean?).

Then there was the import processing fee of $22.

Cargo automation fee of $27.50.

Terminal handling charge of another $27.50.

It was starting feel like the process was a death by a thousand cuts, but then came the heavier blow of $135.44 for the handling fee, quickly followed up by another body blow to the guts $121.

They knew they had me helpless on the ropes, so they unleashed a quick flurry of lighter blows to finish me off.

Smack!

$22 for maritime security charge.

Smack!

$11 for post and petties (petties? I thought this was just a beating, not foreplay).

So on top of paying $400 to ship the statue, I had to pay a further $591.44. Basically it cost us $1000 to ship our purchase from Bali.

Did I feel like I got screwed?

You bet!

I was screwed, blued and tattooed!

They bent me over that counter and fucked me six ways to Christmas!  They also had the audacity to act surprised when I told them I didn’t enjoy the experience and what a bunch of rapists I thought they were.

I felt so despoiled, as if I’d been subjected to some kind depraved customs broker’s fantasy. I can almost imagine what might’ve being going through the brokers mind’s as they were having their way with me.

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