Poi is both the name of the object (a weight on the end of a flexible cord) and what you do with that object (spin it in circles around your body). It is believed that poi originally came from the Māori of New Zealand. Today poi continues to play an important role in Māoridom and across the globe as a form of performance, play, and fitness.
Though there is little information about poi in New Zealand prior to European arrival, it is generally believed that poi was used by Māori men to train strength and flexibility, and by Māori women as a form of entertainment. According to Māori researcher Dr. Karyn Paringatai, poi was originally part of the “dance” section of the whare täpere, meaning the “house of entertainment” (Paringatai, 2009). Two early accounts of poi read:
One pretty haka they have, in which each performer holds a ball with a short piece of string attached, and the different motions given to it with great rapidity and in perfect time form a pleasing accompaniment to the monotonous dreary sing-song recital. At times the voice seems to proceed from the heel, it is so deep.Lieutenant-Colonel St John, 1830
These are their principal manufactures: they make, however, baskets in colours, and toys of various sorts, such as balls very neatly made of black and white plait, which are swung by a cord in a peculiar manner, whilst the performers, many in number, sing in excellent time. Most of the women excel in this, and the exact time, the regular motion, and precise attitude which is observed by all the performers, are peculiarly striking.Edmund Halswell, the Protector of Aborigines and Commissioner for the Management of the Native Reserve
During the wars waged against Māori in the 1860’s, Te Whiti and Tohu, two Māori leaders committed to resisting the European land invasion through non-violence, utilized poi as a religious and spiritual messenger. After the wars, poi took on the role of attracting tourists and became a staple item in kapa haka (Māori performing arts). Poi continues to play a prominent role in Māoridom today.
Can Poi Improve Your Health?
A clinical trial conducted at the University of Auckland proved benefits in grip strength, balance, and attention for older adults after just one month of poi practice. Watch the video or click the button below for more information on the clinical research.
People across the globe are feeling the benefits of playing poi, be it physically, mentally, emotionally, or anything in between! Check out our poi stories page to read personal accounts of the power of poi, or even share your own poi story.
Start your poi journey today!
Create your first poi
Check out our DIY poi video about 3 different ways to make your first pair of poi, or visit the SpinPoi shop for some pre-made options.
Learn the fundamentals
The SpinPoi Fundamentals Course will teach you the building blocks of poi from the ground up. With strong foundations, you can learn and master any poi move!
Put it all together!
Our beautiful beginner poi routine series comes with step by step tutorial videos on how to put poi movements together to music.
Paringatai, Karyn Ailsa. Poia Mai Taku Poi: A History of Poi: a Critical Review of Written Literature on the Poi in New Zealand and the Pacific. VDM Publishing, 2009.