Tribal masks fetch $942,000 in controversial French sale

Tribal masks fetch $942,000 in controversial French sale
A rare antique tribal mask, Kachina Hapota, circa 1910-1920, revered as a sacred ritual artifact by the Native American Hopi tribe in Arizona is displayed at the Drouot auction house in Paris before auction.

PARIS - A Paris auction of sacred masks from the Hopi and San Carlos Apache Native American tribes fetched more than 550,000 euros (S$942,000) Monday, defying protests from the United States and activists.

The US embassy had asked for the suspension of the sale of colourful ceremonial masks and head-dresses after the failure Friday of a legal challenge by advocacy group Survival International on behalf of Arizona's Hopi tribe.

Some 24 "Kachina" masks - which are worn by dancers during religious ceremonies and considered living beings by the up to 18,000-strong Hopi - were sold for 520,375 euros (S$892,282), said the EVE auction house that organised the auction.

Three San Carlos Apache masks were also sold for 30,000 euros. A US embassy representative attended the auction to "show solidarity with the two tribes".

"We remain concerned about this sale, which took place before the Hopi or Apache tribes had the time to examine the objects and their origin to see whether they could claim them," Philip Breeden, minister counsellor for cultural affairs, told AFP.

In a letter sent Saturday to EVE, the US embassy argued that the two tribes should have had the time to determine whether they could recover the items under a UNESCO convention that fights against the illicit trafficking of cultural property, to which France is a signatory.

But EVE responded that "on the one hand, the Hopi tribe had the possibility to lay out its arguments in front of the judge and was dismissed, and on the other hand, an exchange of detailed letters took place with the San Carlos Apache tribe".

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