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Learning to make Māori poi, except for that last step.

They always say the grass is greener on the other side, I just never realized by “other side” they literally meant the other side…of the world. The grass is very green in New Zealand. And the sky very blue. And the people very friendly. And the PhD in poi spinning off to a very good start. After a month of settling in, pondering why I brought so many useless things and not enough socks, and asking people to repeat whatever they just said to me (sometimes I’m really not sure they speak English here), it was finally time to learn how to spin poi. Māori style.

the actual grass and sky. no photoshop filters here.

the actual grass and sky. no photoshop filters here.

I headed to a weekend long wananga (sort of like a retreat, still not sure I have really grasped the meaning of the word, or how to pronounce it) on Māori contemporary performance, held at the marae on the University of Auckland campus. A lot happened at the marae. We learned to dance like birds. We wove rope from the muka of flax leaves. We introduced our teddy bears to each other (by “we” I actually mean myself and a small child who was at the wananga with her mom…we happened to be the only ones who brought our teddy bears), and finally, on day two, in the last hours, we learned to make poi.

sleeping arrangements inside the marae

sleeping arrangements inside the marae

To be honest, it was not a culturally rich or detailed experience. We started by cutting foam cubes into balls with scissors. I asked if you could buy the foam in ball form already. They said you could not, but that it used to come in very big sheets and because so many people were buying it to make poi, they started making it in smaller cubes (I guess whoever manufactures the foam missed the memo about poi being spherical).


We then cut long strands of yarn and learned how to weave 4 strands together with the help of a partner, to make the poi cord. My partner and I could not make a consistent weave to save our lives, so we instead came to terms with the fact that our weaving was…unique.


We then cut a slit in the foam, stuffed the woven yarn in a ways, and sewed the two together. And then, we ran out of time. It’s true. After an entire weekend of anticipating this moment, not only did we not get to finish our poi, but we did not learn how to spin them. I was told I could take some garbage bags home with me to finish the final step of covering the balls in plastic. I declined. I could get my own frickin garbage bags (in retrospect, I should have taken them. The garbage bags at my house turned out to have green frogs printed all over them and it was weeks before I got to the store to pick up some plain white ones). So it may have been a bit anticlimactic, but there was hardly time to pout. Two days after the wananga I was set to sit in on Kapa Haka I, a beginner class on Māori culture at the University of Auckland. And this particular lesson, was all about poi spinning.