This is a Katsinam — a sacred mask of the Hopi people. The Hopi believe that these are living beings, sacred spirits embodied.
Over the years, “artifacts” like these have been stolen from indigenous peoples around the world and then sold to collectors and even museums. I’m an archaeologist, I get it. These are amazing,beautiful, and meaningful. We WANT to see them. Learn about them. Honor them with places on pretty glass shelves, lit by spot lights. But no. No no no no no.
I’m not religious, but I strongly believe that people’s religious beliefs and traditions are genuinely important. I might not always agree with religious traditions, and am willing to enforce laws that protect the rights of individuals against religiously based abuses (al la genital mutilation, human and civil rights violations, etc). However, in cases like these auctions selling objects held sacred by others, just no.
It is immoral.
Which is why I love this story so much. Intrigue, spying, late night phone calls, by the amazing Annenberg Foundation to purchase a whole lot of Hopi objects being sold by an unethical auction house. The Annenberg Foundation managed to buy almost all of the sacred objects to be returned to their rightful home.
So, rock on Annengerg people, rock on.