The Chicagoist will be launching later but in the meantime please enjoy our archives.

Field Museum Loses Bones, Keeps House

By Shannon in Arts & Entertainment on Mar 25, 2007 3:00PM

We at Chicagoist are intrigued by the Field Museum. So much stuff representing the whole of the planet. Do you ever go there and wonder, "Where do they get these exhibits? How did it end up here instead of London or New York? And what do the native countrymen feel about us having their antiquities here?" We found that answer concerning a small slice of Pacific heritage. The Field Museum has in its collection 14 Māori heads that were purchased from a New York scientific supply sometime in the past. But now the heads are going back to their native New Zealand, after three years of talks with museum curators and foreign nationals.

Ruatepupuke IIApparently the Māori populace in New Zealand wasn't too crazy about having their dead relatives stacked on shelves for slack-jawed yokels to see. Field Museum curator John Terrell defended the collection by noting that back in the 19th century, poor people couldn't exactly hop a ship halfway around the world to check out the natives. Not too practical. The skeletal remains of Māori ancestors, consisting mostly of crania and mandibles, will be returned to Te Papa museum in Wellington. Details are still being hammered out, as a Te Papa team will most likely accompany the heads back home.

One item still sticks in the Māori's collective craw, though: the Field Museum still has one of only three marae, or sacred Māori meeting houses, outside of New Zealand. While well-preserved, and with a valid title belonging to Chicago, the Māori are rather sensitive about it being here in the first place. We garnered it from the Dutch (or zee Germans) in 1905, who obtained it from the original aborigines. Terrell likens it to your grandmother being sold. We're holding onto it for now, but there's no doubt talks will rage on.

Image via hibino.