125th anniversary celebrations

(© 2007, Jane Connolly)

(© 2007, Robert and Charlene Shaw)

In mid April 2007, a delegation of over 50 people from Tokomaru Bay visited the Museum in Chicago to honor the 125th anniversary of the first opening of Ruatepupuke II at Tokomaru in 1881. 

Formal welcomes on a marae in New Zealand are called powhiri (or pohiri), a word that roughly translates as “welcome ceremony.”  During a powhiri, those hosting the event (that is, the tangata whenua) greet those coming from elsewhere (manuhiri). 

To do so, hosts and visitors convene on opposite sides of the open space (called Te Maraenui Atea o Tumatauenga, “The Great Marae of Tumatauenga, Guardian of War”) in front of the host’s meeting house.  This open space is the most sacred place on a marae. 

During the 2007 visit from Tokomaru Bay, The Field Museum adopted some of the general formalities of welcome widely used in New Zealand for greeting visitors from afar.  However, since none of those representing the Museum were Maori, we had to adapt the rules of encounter in the spirit of The City of Chicago. 

Quite early in the planning process for the event, we decided that the speakers on our side of the marae at the powhiri  should be a sampling of the multicultural realities of Chicago.  Thus the first to speak on our behalf was John McCarter, President of The Field Museum.  After his words of welcome, Lionel Dunn, who is a member of the Museum’s security staff, played the saxophone, something he does movingly and well.  Then Jan Lorys, Director of Polish Museum, spoke.   He, too, was subsequently “supported,” as they say in New Zealand, by another song, this time one in Polish sung by Aleksandra Podowski from the Kolbe School of Polish Language. 

The third speaker was Laura Washington from Museum’s Board of Trustees. Afterwards she was supported by a spiritual sung by Janine Weathersby, also from the Museum’s security staff.

Our fourth and last speaker was Joe Podlasek, Executive Director of the American Indian Center in Chicago.  He was afterwards supported by a Native American dance performance by the Center’s Jingle Dress Dancers and Drum. 

After those on our side were done, four speakers from Tokomaru Bay stood up in turn to match our welcoming speeches.  They spoke to us mostly in Maori, as is customary, and they were supported by waiata (songs) done in traditional Maori fashion.

Afterwards, The Anthropology Alliance gave all our overseas visitors a sumptuous and tasty dinner with catered dishes representing a sampling of Chicago's culinary ethnic diversity.

Background image: Port Moresby by Hitchster. CC BY 2.0 / cropped and desaturated from original

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