Episode 2, Fact 2 - Poi

 

The Poi has been part of the indigenous Māori of New Zealand for many hundreds of years.  There are some who have said that traditionally the Poi dance is derived from a ceremonial love dance and that the object of the Poi from the first was to give graceful welcome to strangers, while others have said it was used by males to increase their flexibility, build co-ordination and upper body strength for battle and thereby keeping the ranks of the "Taua" (war party) up to their full strength.  The wahine (women) used Poi as wrist exercises and to keep their hands flexible for weaving.

 
 
 
 
Ref: history-nz.org/Poi

Poi comes in two forms, short with a string equal to the length of the fingertips to the wrist and long with strings equal to the distance from fingertips to shoulder. The traditional Poi was made from Raup ō swamp plant to make the ball and was attached to a flax rope.

 
 
 Te Whanau a Apanui performing at the 2015 Te Matatini National Kapa Haka Championships

Te Whanau a Apanui performing at the 2015 Te Matatini National Kapa Haka Championships

 
 

Today most Poi are made from durable and readily available modern materials.  The core or ball part are often made from foam or crumpled paper while the skins consist of plastic or loomed fabrics. Tassels are usually made of wool.

 
 
 Te Kotahitanga performing at 2013 Te Matatini National Kapa Haka Championships

Te Kotahitanga performing at 2013 Te Matatini National Kapa Haka Championships

 
 

The Art of Poi eventually made its way into a dance and the Māori women began to perform Poi at cultural events, with vocal and musical accompaniment.  By contrast modern Poi can also be performed by individuals, without singing and with less structured choreography.

Poi has also gained a following in many other countries.  The expansion of Poi culture has led to a significant evolution of the styles practiced, the tools used and the definition of the word "Poi".