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Motu Man

September 5, 2016




When Mrs. Chatterbox and I travel we always search for souvenirs that encapsulate our experiences and serve as a reminder of our visits to exotic locations. Over the years we’ve filled our home with items, and now our home is bursting at the seams and can’t handle more souvenirs. These days I’m inclined to purchase Christmas ornaments or other items that don’t take up much space. Motu Man is an item we purchased before deciding to downsize and limit our acquisitions.


Motu Man (a motu is a small Pacific island) was purchased on Raiatea, an island we visited while touring Tahiti and French Polynesia. Motu Man is hand carved from dense Miro wood. He’s not a tiki, which is a depiction of a Polynesian god. Rather, Motu Man is a stylized depiction of a tribal chief.



Motu Man was carved on Raiatea





Typical tikis


After acquiring Motu Man from the artist, the sculpture was padded with old newspapers and wrapped in brown paper for the flight home. He was too heavy for our suitcases so I had to lug him aboard the plane as a carry-on item. Before departing French Polynesia, we had to go through customs at Papeete Airport in Tahiti.


It was unbearably hot and humid as I stood in line to pass through customs. French Polynesia may challenge Hawaii when it comes to beautiful scenery but it can be unpleasant without the trade winds that cool Hawaii and make it such a paradise. I was melting by the time I reached the front of the line, where a massive Tahitian customs inspector began questioning me.


After inspecting my luggage he pointed at the wrapped package containing Motu Man and asked what was inside. I didn’t relish the idea of unwrapping him so I joked, “Tiki god. No unwrap or bad ju-ju!”


My questionable humor has gotten me in trouble on more than one occasion, but I was hot, crabby, eager to clamber aboard an air conditioned plane and not thinking rationally. The expression on the custom official’s face made me realize I’d said something inappropriate. He didn’t look amused by my comment. He squinted at my package and shook his head. I was certain he was going to push me and my purchase into a “special” room for unsavory characters trying to smuggle contraband out of Tahiti, but instead he began to look concerned…frightened.


“Tiki god, you say?”


I nodded. I considered admitting it was only an image of a tribal chieftain and not actually a tiki god but reconsidered. I’d already said too much and was starting to worry.


Deciding to make up for my bad joke by being as helpful as possible, I said, “I’ll unwrap him if you like,” I started to untie one of the string knots holding the package together.


A massive brown hand reached out to prevent me from proceeding. “No, bad ju-ju to unwrap here. You take home. Unwrap there.”


I though he was joking, but his expression convinced me he was dead serious.


Motu Man filled a prominent space in my studio when we lived downtown, but today he’s on the mantel in our current home.




Motu Man in my old writing studio



He may not be a true tiki god, but over the years he’s managed to keep bad ju-ju away.




Motu Man currently on our mantel



Are there any peculiar items in your home that require an explanation?  



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I have a couple of lamps that are representative of Quebec folk art. I like them, but Mrs. Pixel does not. They reside in the cellar/basement.
By: Daniel LaFrance on September 5, 2016
The carving is exquisite! You were lucky with that encounter, customs officials (airport officials in general) are notoriously lacking any sense of humor!
By: Botanist on September 5, 2016
We have a stone gadjah mada that supposedly serves a similar purpose. Maybe I will write up a post on that.
By: Tabor on September 5, 2016
I once jokingly told a customs inspector that a heavy package I was carrying was my rock collection. He didn't think it was funny. Another inspector told me that he decided to do a body search on a man who kept scratching his legs. Turned out the guy was smuggling wristwatches with expansion bands that he hid on his legs!!
By: fishducky on September 5, 2016
we have quite a few odd sculptures in our home- I guess we have rather quirky tastes- Perhaps I'll write about some and how we got them....the goofiest thing we ever purchased and carried home on an airplane was a bathroom sink. Made in Mexico it was exactly what we had been looking for as we were remodeling our bathroom and it was perfect! A bit cumbersome on the plane, but it made it back without a scratch!
By: Kathe W. on September 5, 2016
That's interesting. I wonder if something like Voodoo? R
By: Rick Watson on September 5, 2016
We've got nothing that would rival a Motu Man!
By: messymimi on September 5, 2016
rather resembles a preying mantis. :)
By: TexWisGirl on September 5, 2016
After carrying him all the way home it is only right that he looks out for you. Sounds like you got lucky with the Customs man. I have all manner of artifact gathered from many places where I was on assignment or engaged in a shoot. Mostly they are small items, easily carried. Earthen ware shards from a dig in Israel or the Dominican Republic, a piece of the Berlin Wall, an olive seed from the ancient tree in the Garden of Gethsemane, a Mayan shard from Tikal, A Sandino button from Nicaragua, small carved animals from Africa, etc, etc. The common quality, they are small, little pieces, mostly. There is the Maasai war club, and the 50 calibre metal burning sniper shell.
By: Tom Cochrun on September 5, 2016
I think he is kind of cool looking. I'll have to remember bad ju-ju next time I am smuggling:)) I have an heirloom dinner gong made from elk horns and German silver. It is ugly but we moved a lot when I was growing up. Once the deer horns were set out, I knew we were home.
By: Arkansas Patti on September 5, 2016
We have several that are too embarrassing to explain, and because of that, they live in the BARn, not in the house.
By: Val on September 5, 2016
Motu Man looks very interesting - I hope you never get rid of him in your downsizing efforts! My in-laws brought us back one of those nesting babushka dolls from their trip to Russia. I don't know if they are supposed to bring good luck, but they turned out really lucky for us. When we put our house in South Carolina on the market because my husband had found a job in Florida, I was prepared for a long, stressful time apart while I tried to sell our house. Well, the second couple who looked at the house ended up buying it right away. The realtor mentioned to us that the buyers picked up that babushka doll that was sitting on a bookcase and looked at it curiously. Turns out the husband was from Russia. Ha!
By: Pixel Peeper on September 5, 2016
Just me.
By: cranky on September 5, 2016
I have a piece of Hittite pottery from Turkey; but I've got no story to go with it. I got a friend to bring it back for me when I was working on a book about ancient Anatolia.
By: Tom Sightings on September 5, 2016
Beautiful carving with a great story. I'll bet it's the last time you bullshitted a customs agent.
By: red Kline on September 5, 2016
I just emailed you a photograph of mine!
By: Catalyst on September 5, 2016
I guess I need to go to French Polynesia and get a tiki god to ward off the bad ju-ju.
By: PT Dilloway on September 6, 2016
I like that your joke paid off - he got it. The wood looks rich, unique. I could use a Motu Man around here.
By: Robyn Engel on September 6, 2016
At the moment I'm trying to de-clutter. I have a busty waitress in 50's clothing statue. Does that count as weird?
By: LL Cool Joe on September 7, 2016

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