Katsina returned to Hopi tribe following 'shameful saga'

A sacred katsina mask has been returned to members of Arizona's Hopi tribe following a much-disputed Paris auction.

Hopi katsina handover
No photography was permitted during the handover as any public display of katsinam is considered highly offensive

Despite fierce opposition, earlier this year, French auction house Neret-Minet Tessier & Sarrou sold more than 70 sacred katsinam for $930,000.

Survival International lawyer Pierre Servan-Schreiber purchased a single katsina, which was returned to the Hopi during a ceremony this afternoon.

Throughout April, Servan-Schreiber worked closely with the Hopi tribe, attempting to stop the auction from taking place. Despite appealing to the French government, Hopi representatives were unsuccessful in their attempts to stop the auction, which tribal chairman LeRoy N Shingoitewa labelled a "shameful saga".

Following the handover, Servan-Schreiber commented: "It is my way of telling the Hopi that we only lost a battle and not the war. I am convinced that in the future, those who believe that not everything should be up for sale will prevail.

"In the meantime, the Hopi will not have lost everything since two of these sacred objects [a second katsina was bought by the family of late French singer Joe Dassin, and will be returned to the Hopi later this year] have been saved from being sold."

Hopi theology regards katsinam as friends. Any public display of the masks is considered profoundly offensive.

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