Haka exhibit shines at Field Museum

By Nancy Cooper

In an era when twerking is taking center stage at many venues, The Field Museum is trying to educate people about a historic dance move called haka. 

The museum is hosting an exhibit through Dec. 1 about the traditional Maori dance used on the battlefield or to display pride and unity.

Traditionally, haka includes very aggressive foot-stomping, tongue protrusions and rhythmic body slapping accompanied by a loud chant. 

Eric Rush, a New Zealand rugby champion, told guests about the significance of haka to his nation. 

“Haka has a very cultural significance,” Rush said. “It is how we dignify ourselves as New Zealanders and is something we are proud of.”

Although haka may be viewed as a battle dance against opponents, its meaning has changed over time, according to Rush.

“In the old days, it was a way to go into battle and to intimidate the opposition,” Rush said. “Today, haka is a sign of respect, [so we will do it] as a sign of respect for our opposition.”

Richard Lariviere, president and CEO of The Field Museum, shared his enthusiasm for the exhibit with Chicagoans. 

“The Field Museum is very pleased to share the history and beauty of the Maori culture through this moment,” Lariviere said. “Through the work of our Field Museum, we are able to give insight and teach about the world of the Maori culture.”

The exhibit features a traditional Maori house, Ruatepupuke II, which is the only Maori house in the United States and in the Americas, according to Lariviere. 

The house was built in 1881 in Tokomaru Bay, New Zealand, and has carved artwork of hundreds of faces where no two faces are the same, each face symbolizing a specific ancestor of the Maori people. 

Visitors can also view a Marae Gallery, which includes photography of the Maori culture, military and cultural events, according to a Field Museum press release.

Joe Podlasek, director of the American Indian Center of Chicago, 1630 W. Wilson Ave., also kicked off the exhibit by paying tribute to the flag of the Maori culture.

“We start by paying respects to their flags, an important part of our warriors, and it is the first flag of our lands,” Podlasek said. “Each feather is a memory of somebody that has given their lives for this country.” 

According to Podlasek, each jingle of the metal cones he wears encourages feelings of wellness. There are traditionally four dancers to represent North, South, East and West, and all directions are spiritually important and traditionally bring people together, he said.

New Zealand’s All Blacks kicked off a rugby game at Soldier Field on Nov. 1 against the U.S. Golden Eagles with the haka dance. The All Blacks went on to beat the Golden Eagles 74-6.