What’s Maori Poi?

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Maori poi is a traditional ball on a string used in dance and storytelling by the indigenous Maori people of New Zealand. It improves physical coordination and is made from natural or synthetic materials. It is not to be confused with fire poi, which is a Western invention. Visitors can see poi performances and learn about the traditions of different Maori tribes.

The Maori are a group of indigenous people living in New Zealand. In the Maori language, poi is a word for a ball on a string, and Maori poi is an important part of culture for many Maori tribes. Traditional Maori pois consist of two linen cords attached to balls weighted down with moss and other materials, while modern pois are often made from synthetic, rather than natural, materials. The strings are swung rhythmically while dancing or telling a story. The surrounding traditions then vary from tribe to tribe within New Zealand.

The use of poi improves the strength and flexibility of the arms and hands, as well as being beneficial for coordination. Both men and women use them for physical benefits and as an exercise tool. They are also used in traditional dance and storytelling, often as percussion instruments, as they make distinctive sounds as they travel through the air or brush against the body. Multiple dancers often form a line for poi dance, wearing traditional formal dance attire.

Working with Maori isn’t quite like juggling, though the two practices both require skillful coordination. It takes time to learn to manipulate the strings rhythmically, creating a nice, regular pattern. Shorter strings are easier to work with than long ones and are often used by beginners or in specific circumstances. Longer strings require more advanced skill, especially when multiple dancers are coordinating.

Some Westerners confuse Maori poi with fire poi. The Maori tradition does not include a fire dance with poi, something that was invented largely in the Western world, although it was inspired by other traditional fire dances. Working with fire also requires a high level of awareness and skill, as it can be quite dangerous. Most people use Maori poi for training before moving on to using fire poi, which are also made from different materials than the traditional versions.

Visitors to New Zealand can see poi performances by active members of Maori tribes and learn more about the distinct poi traditions of different tribes. Many of these performances also feature other traditional Maori performing arts and can be an interesting way to experience New Zealand culture and history. In some regions, Māori poi instruction may be available to people with a high level of interest, along with poi traditionally made for purchase.

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