What is Poi?
Short answer= Poi is a Polynesian term meaning ball on string. With very little resources available about the history of poi, the “What is it?” question is mostly left to interpretation. If you have any resources that can supplement this research please contact me by clicking the email link in the navigation bar.
Hailing from New Zealand originally, the technical dance has traditionally been used by women to increase flexibility, coordination and balance. The continuous use of the muscle memory involved made women more skilled at weaving and at other female dominated aspects of life. Even as men began to spin poi, the art was considered a major source of empowerment among women. The following video will give you an idea of the choreographed skill set most women on the island began nourishing as young girls.
Indigenous materials were used, as the art was common because of the accessibility of resources to make poi and the simple steps to learn basic moves. Raupo, a plentiful wetland plant on the island, was used as the heads (balls) and was stuffed with the fluffy down of the seeds. The plant was traditionally used to thatch roofs of whare, which were sacred spaces found throughout the Polynesian islands, and storehouses, which were usually raised from the ground to store materials that could spoil in water or be scavenged by animals. The pollen in raupo was sweet and used for cakes. The plant was an obvious match for the physics of poi and was attached to flax rope, another plentiful resource on the island.
Indian Club Swinging
Without much information, it’s difficult to decipher if Indian club swinging is a variation of traditional poi. They share many of the same moves and both promote flexibility, agility, coordination and balance. Check out The Fire Garden for a more in-depth discussion-- it’s really quite interesting.
The skill of club swinging goes back to the early 1900’s, so it is reasonable to infer that even if it is to be considered a totally different discipline than poi that it was in fact influenced by it. It was used in military training. I’ve watched this video from 1904 several times and it still makes my jaw drop.