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Controversial tribal artifacts sale lures few bidders

Associated Press logo Associated Press 4/04/2017 By THOMAS ADAMSON, Associated Press
This photo dated Monday, April 3, 2017 shows various types of "fleche faitiere", decorated spears used by the Kanak to adorn their rooftops, on display at the Aguttes auction house in Neuilly sur Seine, outside Paris, France. A once-contested sale is going ahead in Paris of precious Kanak artifacts that were acquired by a private collector from the indigenous Melanesian inhabitants of New Caledonia. Nine wooden objects, including large decorative arrows dating from the 16th century, are to go under the hammer Tuesday. (AP Photo/Michel Euler) © The Associated Press This photo dated Monday, April 3, 2017 shows various types of "fleche faitiere", decorated spears used by the Kanak to adorn their rooftops, on display at the Aguttes auction house in Neuilly sur Seine, outside Paris, France. A once-contested sale is going ahead in Paris of precious Kanak artifacts that were acquired by a private collector from the indigenous Melanesian inhabitants of New Caledonia. Nine wooden objects, including large decorative arrows dating from the 16th century, are to go under the hammer Tuesday. (AP Photo/Michel Euler)

PARIS — An auction of precious tribal Kanak artifacts got a tepid response from bidders in Paris Tuesday, with buyers apparently scared off by lingering questions about whether the items were acquired legally.

Nine sculpted-wood objects, including large decorative arrows dating from the 16th and 17th centuries, bought by a private collector from the indigenous Melanesian inhabitants of New Caledonia, went under the hammer.

Parisian auction house Aguttes estimated the items would sell for up to 775,000 euros ($825,000), but only two of the least valuable lots sold for 10,455 euros ($11,134).

Organizers said buyers apparently were scared off by a protest in 2015, in which a group linked to the Kanaks alleged the objects had been stolen.

Collector Jean-Louis Roiseux said he had subsequently established the provenance of the rare artifacts that he came across in shrub land in the South Pacific French territory. He produced documents attesting to their purchase from tribal leaders in 1972, giving the green light for Tuesday's auction.

"They are among the oldest such (Kanak) collections in existence," Roiseux said.

Auctioneer Claude Aguttes, who collaborated with Paris' Quai Branly Museum, said the surreal 2-meter (6 feet, 5 inches) -long sculptures adorned hut roofs, their size and intricacy growing according to a resident's social importance.

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Thomas Adamson can be followed at Twitter.com/ThomasAdamson_K

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