#DoTheHaka: New Zealand Kiwis in Chicago

When the New Zealand All Blacks rugby team descending on Chitown for a test match with the USA Eagles a large number of Kiwis living abroad in the USA and Canada gathered. Walking around the Chicago Loop, an adventurer could hear many men and women speaking with the softer, prettier antipodean accent.

Maori meeting house at Field Museum
Maori meeting house at Field Museum

This was a historic occasion as the All Blacks had not played in the USA since 1980. It became an opportunity for All Blacks sponsor AIG to introduce Americans to some traditions in rugby and New Zealand culture. The most obvious is the haka. This is the war cry and dance that the Maori developed to intimidate their opponents. In modern New Zealand it is a living part of the culture. My favorite haka performance is the one my son and his fellow People to People travellers did for us in the Sacramento Airport upon returning from New Zealand in 2003. AIG’s #DoTheHaka video shows you how to perform Ka Mate.

The All Blacks first performed the haka as part of the pre-match rituals in 1905. While other teams do a haka before the match (youth teams, Polynesian teams) it is most strongly identified with the All Blacks. Read here for a history of Ka Mate on the All Blacks website.

Haka exhibit at Field Museum
Haka exhibit at Field Museum

Why does the haka strike fear into opponents? Could it be the sheer size of the All Blacks players? Other teams are also made up of big guys. More likely it is the intensity of the performance and the impact of the entire team doing it in unison. This is a group of guys who are bonded and demonstrating how they are going to play as a unit on the field. I am thinking that if you are the USA Eagles on November 1 at 2:50 p.m. you are thinking “Oh crap. I am in for it now.”

The Field Museum, Chicago’s natural history museum, put together a special exhibit to celebrate the haka and New Zealand culture. The Field Museum is right next to Soldier Field so I swung in there and used my rugby ticket for a discount. ($13 admission) The ticket sales person pointed upstairs and said it was by the Marai. I trooped off and spent a while wondering through the labyrinth of the Pacific exhibit until I found the Maori meeting house.

The first time I visited the Field Museum I found their aged exhibits charming and retro. On this visit, especially with a new exhibit done in much the same style, I found it underwhelming. Wondering why they did not reach out to Auckland Museum for assistance. In fact, in my mind I was comparing this exhibit to one the Auckland Museum might do and finding the whole presentation lacking in spirit and content.

The haka in modern culture is a fun, living thing that includes flash mob hakas, school hakas, and so much more. The best way to appreciate the haka is to see it live. I dare you not to get chills.

The next best thing is to see the All Blacks haka from the game on November 1.

Epic Day of Rugby in Chicago

The spotlight is for the television crew who is filming Nik Wallenda's tightrope walk tomorrow at 6 p.m.
The spotlight is for the television crew who is filming Nik Wallenda’s tightrope walk tomorrow at 6 p.m.

I am staying in the spire of Club Quarters on the river and so there are only about 3 rooms on the floor. (The rooms are shaped funny too.) This morning I walked out at the exact same time as my neighbors and they were also on their way to the rugby game. It was the first of many fun, short conversations with other fans.

I walked a half block to the Corner Bakery and ordered breakfast. I start walking towards an open table when I realize I am walking by Richie McCaw.  Only my mind processed it as “Oh my gosh, that is RICHIE MCCAW!!! I am walking past RICHIE MCCAW!!!” He is the captain of the All Blacks most games and he is one of the best players in the world. Oh, he is also gorgeous. I was so excited I was shaking and if you asked me my name right then I would have been stumped.

I barely had my coat, scarf and gloves off when Richie McCaw walks past me as he exits the restaurant. No one seems to even notice him. Maybe they are all giving him his space. I smile at him with a big stupid grin and cannot even muster a “hi”.  I had to say something to someone so I walked over to the people who were sitting just across from them. They had New Zealand Rugby shirts on, so I blurted, “Can you believe it? That was Richie McCaw!”

The man says “I thought it was him,” and his wife turns to him and says, “Why didn’t you say something?!”

It is hard to eat breakfast after seeing one of your heroes. I texted lots of people to share. I figured today is going to be a great rugby day.

And it was.

All Blacks fan grimaces at Rookie Eagle (USA mascot)
All Blacks fan grimaces at Rookie Eagle (USA mascot)

The long walk to Soldier Field was in the company of many rugby fans. I stopped at the Chicago Bean to take photos and the Art Institute and the Field Museum for the haka exhibit. (Future posts). It is a long way round Soldiers Field. Ultimately I found the Fan Zone party. Met some more great rugby fans and saw lots of craziness.

The weather today was better than yesterday when it was snowing. It was still cold walking to the stadium. When I got to my seat the sun was beaming down and suddenly I had to strip off my coat, scarf and gloves. I actually got a sunburn!

I made sure I got to my seat in plenty of time to see the All Blacks do the haka. First the national anthems were performed. The USA anthem was tough to hear over the fireworks and people cheering. Then more cheering for the USA when photos of the flag appeared on the various screens. Finally the moment I have been anticipating for months: the ABs get in formation for the haka. And then the big doofuses behind me start chanting “USA, USA”. I did not have a hard time finding my voice in this moment. I turned around and said, “Stop being disrespectful” They actually stopped. Then they said, “It’s not disrespectful. USA, USA” and the guys on my right said, “Yes, it is!” really forcefully. And they stopped. Unfortunately, the haka was almost over.

National Anthems in Soldiers Field
National Anthems in Soldiers Field

There were a few more USA chants but soon the ABs shut them up with their play. I just do not think most of the American fans had any idea what the best in the world rugby looks like. And this was the All Blacks’ B team.

My tweets tell the story. After the third AB try in less than 20 minutes I stopped reporting the score. The final score was 74 to 6 New Zealand.

People around me found the USA’s performance really unsettling. They said goofy things like “New Zealand is so good in rugby because it is the only sport they play.” The guy next to me was really upset by the lopsided score, “This will set rugby back in the US for years.” I asked him why and he did not answer my question.

If US fans want to know what it takes to be number one in the world, they only had to stick around after the game ended. The “A” group of players who sat out the game began a work out on the field that was impressive.

A rugby club captures the moment film
A rugby club captures the moment on film

Walking back to the hotel was crowded and many of the rugby clubs were still enjoying their big day out. And a lot less beer is available in Chicago tonight.