Poia atu / mai (?) taku poi – The Polynesian Origins of Poi
Poi is recognised around the world as a performance item unique to Māori. The word poi refers to a Māori dance or game performed with a ball-like object, to which a cord of varying length is attached. Poi refers to both the ball and the dance, which normally includes hitting and swinging the ball on its string, usually accompanied by music or a chant of some kind. One of New Zealand’s most renowned anthropologists, Sir Peter Buck, who was an authoritative figure spearheading the research into the material culture of the Māori, states that “the women’s poi dance … used an accessory in the form of the poi ball which is unique for Polynesia.” This is a common view of poi. However, this paper questions the uniqueness of poi to the Māori people by showing that the origins of poi can be found in other regions of Polynesia. Specifically, it will trace the movement of poi from Western to Eastern Polynesia; the same path taken by Māori during their migration to New Zealand. It will look at ball games from islands throughout Polynesia with forms and functions similar to those of poi to demonstrate the evolution of poi towards its use in Māori society. Poia atu taku poi, wania atu taku poi (swing far my poi, skim onward my poi) are the age-old words used figuratively in poi compositions to send the poi on a journey over the land and its people; visiting mountains, rivers, forests, villages, whānau (families), hapü (sub-tribes), and iwi (tribes). The words demonstrate the importance of the connections a composer of poi compositions has with each of the above entities. Using this saying I pose the question: Poia atu taku poi? Poia mai taku poi? Did Māori send the poi to the world or was the poi sent to them?
Conference: World Indigenous Peoples' Conference on Education, Hamilton, Aotearoa/New Zealand
Keywords: poi; Polynesia; Pacific Islands; game; Māori game; Māori poi; Maori poi; dance; Maori; Māori
Research Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)