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.


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.


$22 for maritime security charge.


$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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14 thoughts on “Buying tribal art out of context and other traps for young players.”

  1. Razz

    Wonderful account – count yourself lucky they didn’t require to fumigate it.

    The best place for tribal art in Ubud is Murni’s – there they do know what they’re talking about –

    It’s a very nice piece. Is it really stone?


  2. John


    While I’m not 100% sure the piece is stone, it certainly isn’t concrete and it’s way too heavy to be ceramic, plus it has no holes for the steam of firing to escape. The statue and the crate it was sent in was fumigated in Indonesia before it left as part of both the freight charge and Australian regulations. The shipping company in Bali did a very good job and their paperwork was spot on.


    Aw come on, Nine Inch Nails, they’re the breakfast of champions!

    As for enjoying the piece, Engogirl said it all when she came home after work and saw it in our home. “It’s so cool, it’s worth every cent we paid for it”. And as usual, she’s right.

  3. Goodness me they sure know how to rip people off, that’s outrageous.
    Enjoyed the Spock video but I think ear cropping has been made illegal now.

  4. Holy crap!
    I’m going to have to rethink importing that Easter Island Moai now.

    I don’t feel so bad about having my toothpaste taken away at airports now.

  5. What we need here is a good smuggling operation. And the powers that be actually wonder why some individuals try to sneak stuff in rather than go through official channels. It’s a really great piece, though. I’m glad that you got it home even if it did cost a crazy amount in paperwork fees.


  6. Very nice piece razzbuffnik. I think your strategy about buying fewer, but higher quality, things to bring home is spot on. That cheap stuff looks cheap once you get it home. The pleasure of this will last a lifetime — in fact, you will like it even long after you’ve forgotten the screwing by the shippers.

  7. Tony

    You bet they know how to get the most money out of a person.


    Those darn unscrupulous Moai sellers. They never tell anyone how much it costs to ship their product!


    It wasn’t the customs department that was the issue, it was those jerks that handle the freight when it lands. A pox on them!


    Thanks. You’re right of course, and I comfort myself with the knowledge that I’ll get over the rape eventually. I just needed to do a little venting.

  8. That is true violation. I’m sorry about all the extra charges and hope that you’ll soon be able to look at the statue without remembering them. I really can’t believe there were so many. For one item? You’d think you were importing a firearm or something. It’s tribal art, for God’s sake – nothing illegal or dangerous about it. What a rip off.

    When Monsieur and I came back from honeymoon we went through San Francisco airport. My carry-on had to go through the X ray twice and the second time one of the security guards must have taken out a little bag with small items in it – a rosary from my mother, some small, worthless but sentimental jewellery items, hair ties, business cards from acquaintances made in Maui – you get the picture. He forgot to put it back into my tote and I didn’t realise it was lost until I got back to the UK. Then it took me a few days to see whether or not it could be found (there’s more than one lost and found at SFO International – who knew?). When it was, I had it back within a week. The airport used FedEx (their preferred supplier). I agreed the courier charge and paid it and then about 2 months later an invoice arrives at my workplace for import, VAT and duty charges. Work didn’t know it was for me because it had no name on it so by the time we found out, FedEx were getting legal with the firm and the charges were multiplying by the day. I disputed the charges because the items were personal, used and had next to no value. Finally FedEx admitted they had charged me in error (because I received a package from the States they’d assumed I’d done some shopping. Do they really think people do online shopping at SFO airport lost and found?) and dropped the charges. Took months though. I lost the items in May. Charges resolved in September. Ridiculous. But this tale of woe is nada next to yours. Upon. My. Word. What a bunch of greedy bastards.

  9. Some folks certainely know how to rip off other people semi-legally with their “hidden” costs and fees

  10. Epic

    I’ve come to the conclusion that most companies are a pack of rapacious bastards who will try every way they know to gouge you. The whole idea of actual customer service and decency are just platitudes that are used to suck us in until we have handed over our cash and they once they’ve got our money, it’s “so-long SUCKER!”

    I’m off to Tasmania today, and I’m steeling myself for the usual bait and switch that goes on when I go to pick up hire cars. It’s a rae event that I actually get the car I ordered at the price advertised on the website. It always seems to be more or the substitute car is a piece of crap.



    They sure do and there was no way to know how much it was going to finally cost to ship when I bought the item. I guess that’s one of the good things about language, at least I call tell others what happened to me and they can avoid the same trap.

  11. Having seem the statue first hand Razz, I must say that it is a handsome piece and well worth the cost and rape fee.

    From my experience, the people who work for customs do have a hard job and seem to fall into 1 of 2 categories.

    1/ Hard working people that try to do their job as best they can and in accordance with the law…… or
    2/ Horrible little people with no lives that are given too much power – and like to flex their muscles…what is it they say “Absolute power corrupts absolutely”

    regardless of which group they fit into, they all work for a government that, more and more, is on the ever growing hunt for little nooks and crannies where it can stick another tax, fee, fine or charge so it can rape the Australian public more and more.

    We’re all being raped by a Govt that pillage us for more money than ever before and give us less in return than ever before.

    So while you’re sitting there with a swollen arse, feeling pack-raped by the greedy system, smile while you look at that beautiful piece and feel comforted by the fact that you’re not alone.


  12. CQ

    I get even greater solace when I look at you and realise how easily I’ve gotten off being screwed by government forces beyond my control, in comparison to what you’re going through at the moment.

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