My liberal nemesis Alyssa Rosenberg highlighted a heartwarming story of how the Annenberg Foundation secretly bought up a trove of Hopi artifacts in order to return them to the Hopi instead of ending up in the hands of private or institutional collectors.
And hey, good for the Annenberg Foundation and good for the Hopi. There is a long and storied history of First Nations cultures literally being pillaged for their artifacts in this country, so I can certainly understand the Hopi desire to get that stuff back and the desire on behalf of Annenberg to help out.
But there is a downside. Giving this stuff back virtually guarantees that it will never be seen again by non-Hopi eyes. Indeed, I think the only thing the Hopi will do with these artifacts is to either destroy them outright or bury them in some hole to slowly rot into dust.
A couple things bug me about Alyssa's report.
She, and everyone else associated with it, take the Hopi religious claims at face value. "These masks are living spirits." And hey, I'm not saying that the Hopi don't believe the masks are living spirits, what I'm saying is that whatever the Hopi believe about these masks, they're not going to tell you.
They have such an inscrutably different culture than us that we literally cannot comprehend it. The "living spirits" thing is the English translation, and it leaves out all the little nuances and complications that only someone raised Hopi would understand.
But what really bugs is that she first accepts, again at face value, the religious interpretation of these objects, she starts referring to them later as "art."
The Hopi don't consider this to be "art." Don't talk to them about "art." These are tools they use in their own spiritual reality, not "art" works. They serve (or served, since they were later expropriated by relic hunters) a religious purpose. Decorations they ain't.
Indeed, I suspect the main reason the Hopi wanted these objects back is so they would not end up on somebody's wall as "art." Hate to say it, they're kind of weird that way.
They've been living up on their mesas since the 14th century, long before any bearded European stepped foot in the New World, and have endured the Spanish Empire, the Mexican Empire, as well as the American empire. Before that, they lived in the Four Corners area, building huge monumental buildings, including the ones at Mesa Verde and Chaco Canyon. They started doing that in the 9th century.
They're an impressive lot, the Hopi, but they're not a group that a well-meaning liberal should jump to defend. For one, they're kind of racist. And hey, I understand. Racism is taught, and the white man has been giving free lessons since 1492.
A non-Hopi entering a Hopi village essentially has no rights, a policy that would make liberal hairs curl if it was implemented in the South.
The Hopi are squeamish about photographs, and video recordings, and tape recordings. They don't want to be Disneyland, so they don't let you take them.
New Age creepsters have imitated them and distorted their mythologies for so long, now they don't want their stuff to show up at department stores stamped Made in China. Lucky for them, they're a sovereign nation.
They can do that kind of thing if they want to. That doesn't mean you have to give them a high five.