As part of its extensive Pacific collections, The Field Museum is privileged to care for a complete 19th century Maori meeting house, one of the few such houses outside of New Zealand, and the only one in the Americas.
This remarkable building, traditionally named Ruatepupuke II, has a rich heritage, and it has been the focus of extensive cultural exchanges between the Museum and the community of Tokomaru Bay, New Zealand, where it was built and first opened in 1881.
While this house, or whare, now stands inside a museum in Chicago rather than beside the beach at Tokomaru Bay, this “ethnographic object” is of enduring and deeply felt significance to the descendants of its 19th century builders. It is a taonga (“heirloom” or “historical treasure”) not only for the family most intimately associated with it, Te Whanau-a-Ruataupare, but also for all those bearing allegiance to the Ngati Porou tribe of the east coast of New Zealand’s North Island.
Additionally, as one gratifying outcome of the lengthy partnership between The Field Museum and the people of Tokomaru Bay, this whare also now serves as a national “flag ship” for many throughout New Zealand, Maori and pakeha (non-Maori) alike, both as a striking heritage symbol of their cultural pride and values in a distant and foreign land, and also as an innovative urban marae (gathering place) for communicating those values and sensibilities overseas in an unconventional and vibrant multicultural setting.