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French court allows auction of sacred Hopi objects

French court allows auction of sacred Hopi objects

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Published : 2013-12-08 19:16
Updated : 2013-12-08 19:16

PARIS (AFP) ― A Paris court on Friday dismissed an attempt by advocacy group Survival International to block the auction of 25 sacred objects from Arizona’s Hopi tribe that has caused outrage.

The sale of the “Kachina” ceremonial masks and headdresses will go ahead on Monday as planned, despite pleas from the Hopi’s religious authorities to cancel the auction.

The court battle against auction house EVE echoed another legal saga that erupted in April when French firm Neret-Minet ignored international appeals to halt the sale of some 70 masks that eventually fetched around 930,000 euros ($1.3 million).

That auction was decried by activists, including Hollywood legend Robert Redford, who described it as a “criminal gesture” and “sacrilege.”

The sale involved dozens of striking, brightly colored masks and headdresses that the 18,000-strong Hopi, a Native American tribe, say are blessed with divine spirits.

The Hopi insist that even the mere description of the objects as masks or artifacts is highly offensive.

But while the sale of sacred Indian artifacts has been outlawed in the United States since 1990 ― legislation which has allowed the tribe to recover items held by American museums in the past ― the law does not extend to sales overseas.

Claire David, the judge presiding over the case Friday, said that “while the sale of these cultural objects can constitute an affront to the dignity of the Hopi tribe, this moral and philosophical consideration does not in itself give the judge the right to suspend the sale of these masks which is not forbidden in France.”

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