Adventures in Indonesia

Photo by Morgan Hannah

What’s with all the dicks?

By Morgan Hannah, Life & Style Editor


Ubud is the centre of Bali, located deep in the mountains and surrounded by rice paddies and temples that are now almost endlessly plagued by tourists. As the shopping mecca and cultural axis of the island, Ubud was a must-see when travelling to Indonesia last week. This is where I was sure I’d learn about the culture and art of the Balinese people. That thought seemed like even more of a reality after checking into my bungalow—a mock-Buddhist-temple if there ever was one. Complete with outdoor meditation rooms and public shrines.

The thing that fascinated me the most about Ubud was not the Museum Puri Lukisan (where I did indeed learn about traditional Balinese painting and art) nor was it the customary clothing that I could often see worn in temples and even in some retail and restaurants. What interested me was the ornately carved wooden dicks. Call me jejune if you’d like but when you come across as many bags of wooden dicks as I did on a simple walk down the market streets, you would also be enchanted. Especially when the locals give you knowing grins as you pass by. Each bag of phallic figurines looked to be the same: Made in bulk, brightly painted with cutesy elephants, flowers, and dolphins. The small ones were keychains, the medium ones had beer bottle openers on the balls, and the magnum size were erect ashtrays.  They were everywhere. I couldn’t not come across a bag of dicks even if I wanted to—so I bought one. A bright bag of medium-sized dicks.

The Balinese people believe their gods are present in all things; knowing this, I wondered if these carvings carried any weight behind them, or if they were just some gimmicky souvenir for tourists to take home. I asked my cab driver about the bags of dicks on my way back to my bungalow, he laughed and told me in broken English that wood carvings often have profound and useful purposes, but not those. Those bags of dicks, it turns out, are just gimmicky souvenirs after all. Balinese people are big on wood carving, though.

In less risqué carvings such as masks, Culture Trip explains that in tradition mask carvings are abodes for the Balinese people’s ancestor’s spirits. They are opportunities for otherworldly energies to experience the natural world. Some masks are even used in conjunction with dance as a ceremonial offering. Nowadays, masks have become as much a souvenir as the carved dicks, seeing as how they are bought and promptly hung on tourists’ walls back home—far less care than these sacred masks deserve. Regardless, hopefully, carved masks and dicks alike will remind tourists of beautiful Bali’s rich culture and history. At the very least, they provide tourists with memories of their travels, and, if you’re lucky, they’ll open your beer too.