US charity bought Hopi masks for $530k then returned them to tribe
The Hopi tribal mask is revered as a sacred ritual artefact by the Native American Hopi tribe in Arizona. The masks are worn by dancers during religious ceremonies and are considered as living beings. When they are not used, they are stored behind muslin screens so they can ‘breathe’, and are ritually ‘fed’ corn pollen. They are considered so sacred, in fact, that a US charity just spent $530,000 to rescue 24 Hopi artefacts from an auction in Paris, in order to return them to their rightful owners.
The auction was steeped in controversy ever since it was announced that it planned to sell a total of 27 objects considered sacred by Native Americans. The advocacy group, Survival International, tried to challenge the auction in court on behalf of the Hopis but was unsuccessful. The sale of sacred Indian artefacts was made illegal in the United States in 1990 but the law does not extend to sales overseas.
So the Annenberg Foundation stepped in to save the artefacts from being bought by private buyers. In total they purchased 21 Hopi masks and three San Carlos Apached objects “for the sole purpose of returning them to their rightful owner.”
"Our hope is that this act sets an example for others that items of significant cultural and religious value can only be properly cared for by those vested with the proper knowledge and responsibility. They simply cannot be put up for sale," said Sam Tenakhongva, a Hopi cultural leader.
"These are not trophies to have on one's mantel, they are truly sacred works for the Native Americans. They do not belong in auction houses or private collections,” said Gregory Annenberg Weingarten, director of the Los Angeles-based foundation that funds non-profit organisations around the world. "It gives me immense satisfaction to know that they will be returned home to their rightful owners, the Native Americans."