A marae is not just a physical place—a
grassy outdoor yard set aside as sacred ground for a meeting house, or in the
Museum’s case, an exhibit gallery devoted to the same purpose.
As we see it, however, this want is also a challenge and an opportunity.
A marae in New Zealand
is also a liminal space where the past and the present meet, a place where
people both honor their forebears and also look to the future.
In Maori terms, a marae is a turangawaewae, a “place to stand,” where
people may stand proud, speak, and be heard knowing that they will be received
with respect and open-mindedness even by those present who may violently
disagree with what they say.
In sum, a marae is a place where people may encounter one another, explore
their differences, and perhaps discover their commonalities.
It is paradoxical that Chicago
has a Maori meeting house and a sacred marae, but lacks a resident Maori
community to look after both. To be sure, Chicago receives its share of Maori visitors,
and occasional Maori residents. But there is no local Maori community in
the city in the sense of a group of people all sharing a common identify,
heritage, and purpose.
Because we cannot simply ask local Maori residents
to look after this wharenui and marae for us and for their families back in New Zealand, we must create new ways to keep
this Pacific treasure “warm”—as they say in New Zealand.
By default, if not by choice, therefore, it is up to Chicago to keep Ruatepupuke alive to its
heritage and promise in partnership with the people of Tokomaru Bay even if we here are not Maori by descent or upbringing.