A post made last weekend caught people’s attention, as a Facebook user who goes by the name Hans Brandeis posted online through the Boat Lutes of the Philippines page. He claimed that two out of the 300 instruments he sold at the Musical Instrument Museum in Arizona were being sold on an online selling site.
The first lute that was sold is called ‘Kutiyapi’ of the Maguindanaon. This was acquired during a trip to Cotabato City, Maguindanao Province in 1997. It comes from the extended family of Samaon Sulaiman, a ‘kutiyapi virtuoso’ and one of the “Living National Treasures” of the Philippines. When this was offered for sale, one of the frets of the ‘kutiyapi’ was missing.
The second lute is called a ‘Piyapi of the Higaonon.’ The instrument was made in the town of Claveria, Misamis Oriental. This instrument is special such that it represents a specific type of boat lute with a box-shaped resonating body that is now extinct.
The user was able to track that these rare instruments have been sold by MIM.
He wrote, “What ignorance! And it was very badly treated, as all the frets except two are now missing. Also, the two bindings for attaching the back cover to the resonating body have been removed, and who knows what else has been damaged…”
It is unknown who bought the lutes from MIM. The two boat lutes were bought by an online second-hand dealer at an “estate auction” and subsequently listed on an online selling site.
Luck was on the side of the user that he was able to buy them back from him.
This is not the first incident wherein some of the displays in this museum have been sold. Back in 2019, the T’boli boat lute was auctioned by Barnebys UK.
The museum did violate the ICOM Code of Ethics for Museums considering that certain artifacts went missing but with it being a private museum, they are not bound by the rules stated in the code of ethics.
One user in the comments perfectly explained this whole scenario regarding the code of ethics and wrote, “Unfortunately it’s common practice in the US for museums—especially smaller museums not associated with an academic or research institution—to deaccession their collections to private buyers. In fact, it is desirable to have ex-ownership by a museum as part of an item’s provenance. When people donate items to a museum here, it isn’t uncommon for the contract to have a clause stating in effect that the museum has a right to sell your donation for any reason. Lastly, unfortunately, MIM looks like it’s nothing but a pet project of a billionaire that doesn’t seem to support any research done by academic institutions. It makes sense that they only care about the lutes as objects of curiosity and not items deserving of research.”
This implies that MIM may be totally unsafe and unprotected when it comes to artifacts as not even the staff are completely unaware of the importance of the items in their collections.
The user posted this as a warning to be careful about entrusting their collections to museums so that they would never get to experience this kind of scenario.
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