Maori culture- History of traditions and what one of those traditions has become in today's modern society the world over. At brief this is an account of the history of their cultural performances which will lead us through to what was known as Poi chants; what they have lead us to and my views on certain issues involved in today's Poi community and my part in the community.
A History of Maori and Poi- by PK
Maori people come from the islands of New Zealand, natives of these islands hundreds of years ago were warriors, highly adorned with decorative clothing, the warriors were savage looking with facial tattoo's that were worn to frighten enemies. But in every country there were certain customs and traditions and these can still be seen in today's society.
Oratory " the art of whaikōrero " was an exacting and scholarly pursuit.
An accomplished orator was an alumnus of the higher school of learning, and his address would include a multitude of references, quotations and intriguing subtleties, enhanced by extensive genealogical citation, and often some contrived theatrical performance.
Waiata, or mōteatea, were chant poems that formed the canon of Maori oral literature. They ranged from the potent incantations and charms of sorcerers to complex and instructive geographical accounts and virulent recitations of contempt and derision.
Of the recorded and annotated works collected, the majority with known authorship were composed by women, which suggests that women excelled in the literary creative arts across a variety of genres. These include laments, love songs, lullabies, Poi chants, and songs of challenge and contempt. Related to the last type are passionate war chants to heat the blood and rouse to action, which also fall into the haka or posture dance category. Waiata were chanted, rather than actively performed or postured to, the impact coming from the voice and lyrical or inflammatory nature of the words; performance, tone, rhythm, gesture and volume would vary according to the text.
Hakas were active performance items composed intentionally to demonstrate the fitness, agility and ferocity of warriors, and to intimidate or confuse the enemy. They had a high ritual element, and invoked Tūma tauenga, the god of war, while informing the adversary of what awaited them.
Hakas were performed by both man and women, often with weapons flashing and quivering in stark visual accompaniment. In dramatic contrast to the stamping, body slapping aggression of the haka, the Poi chant was a graceful, fluid dance involving the rhythmic manipulation and gentle tapping of the poi, a fibre ball attached to a plaited cord. Now performed exclusively by women, this dance form strengthened the wrists and forearm, increased co-ordination and hand / eye skills, and was excellent training for wielding traditional weapons.
The poi, castanet-type clickers and short sticks were among the few percussive instruments in the Maori musical repertoire as there were no membranophones, or drums, despite their dynamic presence in Eastern Polynesia.
So what is poi? Poi is a ball, made from plaited flax fibre ornamented with haliotis shell and stuffed with bulrush down. It was swung rhythmically around the body and tapped for percussive effect to the accompaniment of chant.
In modern day society, a Poi ball comes in many different forms than the traditional Maori design, comet or tail poi, cone poi, flags, flag poi, glow sticks, and FIRE POI are among some, each give the performer different possibilities and or effects to wow them selves and any spectator. Each type can have many benefits, as there are some patterns that are more difficult with a set of tail Poi than a set of non tailed poi. People who have taught them selves how to use Poi will probably call themselves twirlers or spinners. No longer do twirlers use Poi as a percussive instrument but solely as a visual prop to entertain with or as fitness equipment. To take twirling as fitness might seem a little unusual but once you become involved with learning how to twirl Poi you will find greater understanding of how it can aid you both physically and mentally. Physically it can help keep muscles subtle and toned; you can exert extensive physical energies into body movements and also taking into account posture, it is good practice to take a look at posture when twirling, a good stance and body position will always aid in the ability of movement with Poi and to learn more technical patterns and to take fitness levels more seriously. Good breathing techniques will help too, focusing on breathing will help with stamina and feed oxygen to the brain, and this in turn will help your all round mental and physical state during any activity not just with poi. On a mental level twirling will aid in the ability of hand / eye co-ordination, with both sides of the brain working simultaneously you have the constant ability to think about and learn more patterns as you progress. Your brain will release chemicals as you do in any physical activity, with one such as Poi where learning patterns by moving certain body parts will have a need to be worked on until the pattern becomes a working pattern in your ability and performance, the chemicals that are released will enable your brain to recognise the muscle patterns used in order for you to create the pattern you have learnt with the poi. Once your brain has recognised the muscle pattern you know that you will not have to learn the same pattern again.
Patterns can be done any where around the body, in front of you or behind the back, if your making forward circle patterns or reversed circle patterns, it does not matter what the pattern is or what the pattern is called as that is not the issue. If some one else's abilities seem more advanced than another's that too does not matter as it is what you can do with Poi and not them. All they will have to offer is a help in hand in your progression and any one else's, after all Poi can be done by any one of any sex, age, colour or size. Twirling will always be a non discriminative performance.
Poi is a joyous performance; it is a pleasure to be able to do it and to accomplish some thing that at first may seem quite difficult until understanding is gained. From a spectators position twirling gives off a great aura within its presentation, when performed well can entertain any ones eyes for some time. Though Poi is not a solitary performance it can be performed with any number of participants and can be used to create visual stories as part of a show, there are many fire twirling performance groups across the world that specialise with fire twirling as an act and is an ever growing industry now; the world over.
One thing to note here from experience and understanding of twirling and the global community is that it is hard to please another performer but it is not hard to please a non twirling civilian. People can and will criticise some one else's abilities, it is how you deal with this that will make a difference if it happens to you, some people could be passing beneficial judgment or just being spiteful; remember to always keep an open mind and analyse situations that arise the same as you would analyse a pattern and break it down so that you can learn from it.
Progression of twirlers abilities has been greatly aided by a community spirit both locally and globally and with much aid from the internet. The internet has helped put local communities together introducing people to one another in a local area that have discovered twirling and can help each other learn and to progress and help others in the communities too, with out this valuable aid of modern technology there would not be such a high level of progression as there is within the global twirling community today. There are many internet sites out there full of information on patterns safety issues, video clips and photo galleries and even annual twirling video competitions to show the rest of the global community what others are doing around the world, there really should not be any monetary gain from such competitions as it is not a competitive act to do, no one is better than any one else, as we all progress in learning twirling, there is a certain aspect of infinite patterns that can be learnt, the way they are performed, the style in which the performer is performing, the transitions between different patterns and the influence from learning from other twirlers all play a part in any performance, so how can they be judged other than on a biased level of popularity but you can be you own judge and make your own opinion on this matter, this in turn makes us look back on the conflicts and or offences that could be caused, simple misunderstanding can happen.
Poi twirlers have been faced with other issues in the United Kingdom. The issues arose from the juggling communities many years ago when Poi started to get popular. There is an incredibly written article on poiinthepark.net by Dave Panther about these issues, I would highly recommend every one in the community to read this article and have some understanding about how the Poi communities started from the juggling communities and how Poi has started to become accepted in the juggling communities across the U.K.
Other communities which have come about from this ancient tradition of the Maori is Flagging, mainly a popular past time in the U.S.A, used in the same manner as Poi are, they give a total different effect than any Poi could.
The glow Stringers also in the U.S.A are a huge community, mainly made up of young club goers, they twirl glow sticks in the same manner as poi, but as it is progressing, much the same as the Poi communities, it is vastly being influenced by other communities such as Liquid dancers / break dancers. There are many variations of patterns that are coming from the glow stringing communities that are in turn influencing the Poi communities.
You could say there is a circle evolving here, you will tend to find as you get drawn in to the communities and different equipment, take juggling for example, it does in a few ways influence poi, poi influenced glow stringers, liquid dancers influenced glow stringers which in turn influenced the Poi communities again because that opened new avenues of patterns with poi. It is always good to keep learning, pushing your own personal boundaries physically and mentally so it is thank you to the internet for every one being given a voice and a means to reach the global communities visually either by text articles, message forums or videos via file sharing programs or web sites specialising in these genres.
Club swinging could be looked at from deriving from juggling, but hundreds of years ago it was accounted that the Indian Army used club swinging as fitness and strength training, here we could research more and veers us off topic. Basically club swinging in today's community is using that prop in much the same way as Poi but there are so many more patterns that you can do with clubs as you can take more of an influence from juggling here, and visa versa with Poi you can create some patterns with Poi that would not be actually possible with club swinging.
Poi is a social past time and is a good way to meet other people, make new friends, it certainly would be a much harder time without the internet to be able to do any thing that is written above.
So here is a little about me, my stories and influences and passages through my learning.
Having had Poi in my life since July 2000 I have taken my learning levels to new extremes, I have tried to learn as much as I can with many different props, my main past times right now are juggling and unicycling. Poi has taken a back seat now for a year or so whilst I can take in all the learning I have achieved. I have been juggling now for a year and a half having caught the juggling bug from Rob, a professional performer from te POOKa of Edinburgh, Scotland. Having lived and worked with him for some time, he has influenced my Poi to such a level I feel that I got burned out. So I decided to take up juggling one night at the Edinburgh University Juggling Society where we decided to go for a twirl with some others from the extremely large twirling and juggling and performer community there.
With taking a year out from performing full time I have taken my progression to juggling 5 balls, again I am feeling the accomplishment and satisfaction that I used to get from learning poi, the more you put in = the more benefit and accomplishment you receive. Every one will hit a flat spot in their learning at some point, it comes and goes, and the inspiration needs to keep flowing, so if you are adamant that you think you can pass through this stage try to learn another prop that can aid you passing the flat spot and gain inspiration again, this way you begin to understand all of the links from the other communities that influence Poi in ways you did not know existed. A purpose of my writing this is to try and cover many of these different topics not in a biased way.
I do still twirl poi, no longer for a living as a performer, I still enjoy it as much as I did when I got my first patterns perfected, as I have progressed with my ability in my Poi twirling I feel that all the influence and learning of other props is helping me still to learn Poi patterns that much easier than when I first started; after a while it all becomes second nature just like riding a unicycle.
Now the unicycling is a fun past time and aids me with posture, stamina, balance and keeps me generally in a fit state of physique. One thing I unicycle for is posture, which I need for my lower spine that was severely damaged 2 years ago and will affect me for the rest of my life, the unicycling helps me keep the muscle and tissues between the lower vertebra toned and subtle as most days I wake to not be able to put on my socks and shoes still 2 years on from my accident and having to wear a support on my back whilst standing and sitting for long periods. I don't want to be immobilised for the rest of my life, I want to see the day I can juggle 9 balls and hop 70cm on my unicycle I'm currently around 30+cm so I'm on my way.
Don't get me wrong I still poi, not often as I get moves that I used to struggle with pretty much instantly now compared to 4 years ago, time out from some thing is never a bad thing. No one can take my understanding, my feelings, and my abilities away from me; I still have an extreme amount to accomplish with my poi, many avenues unexplored. I'm a thinker and I will dismantle a pattern and analyse it mentally for time to understand its true form then be able to do it with very little practice.
I live with no internet access right now and have not had any for 6 months; I live in a very small town in the heart of the Derbyshire dales in the U.K but in the process of moving again in the next week. It is good off road unicycling territory here but there are no twirlers, jugglers and only a 16 year old unicycler who is at a similar level as me. I don't get to ride with him unfortunately so I feel alone here. I'm not in my best mental state right now, but in a month or so when I have had time to think about my next passages I am facing, I will be focussed and ready to progress further.
A goal of mine is to share my knowledge, my accomplishments and I achieve this through my community website poiinthepark.net, I take my enjoyment in showing to the global community things that will be of value, videos to get people talking and learning from. Poi to me is not just poi; it is learning, understanding, fitness, sharing, communicating and so much more; it can be so good for you in many ways. The more I try and achieve my goal I put my boundaries further away from me, to be better with graphic design even though that's what I am qualified in; would be great, so I am planning on working harder with that aspect, I have recently designed the logo for Illuminati a new Glow poi manufacturer. To get better also with motion graphics and video editing, I have recently created a video for another poi manufacturer, I feel that I am becoming recognised from not only my abilities with poi; not to sound big headed, but for other interests that I have gained from learning Poi and getting involved in the community.
I have been working on the website now for over 3 years, starting from a complete novice of web design to creating the wonderful and rich in content site that it is today with almost 1000 member registrations in the first year after re launching as a community site. The site came about from events that I started to organise in Sheffield England, I used the site at first to post photo's and dates of future events, I still do that now, I no longer organise the events that get posted and organised on a monthly basis in Sheffield and in London; but I am still very much involved in seeing an event / social gathering I created grow and evolve and that is very pleasing to me and the same goes for the poiinthepark website.
The whole reason behind the poiinthepark events were to get together as many people that shared an interest in poi; and for one day once a month we all get together to share ideas, help each other and enjoy the out doors; making use of the facilities available to us all.
Having started organising the events I had always had an open door policy, that for any one that wanted to travel over from any where in the world there would be a welcome from me and a place to stay. I have had so many faces from all over the globe come to one of our poiinthepark events and stay over, my final poiinthepark before I moved to Edinburgh was the weekend that we filmed Morning Coffee, Having 18 people crash out in my lounge and several more Australians [josh and Kate + friends] in the spare room amongst my junk and a little French girl by the name of Cassandra and a Scotsman called Rob crashing out on a cold kitchen floor.
Another most memorable and pleasing moment was the very first poiinthepark on Clapham Common in London, with nearly 300 people turning out and getting to meet so many more of the people I had met from the global community via the internet.
It has been some time since I last sat down and wrote some thing like this, I normally spend my time, with Photoshop creating images that I like to make, or making videos in premiere or coding pages for the website in Dreamweaver, out riding some trails on my unicycle or just over in the park juggling. As you may now understand, I just like to help others; and learn for my self. I don't want to look back on my life and realise, I've done and achieved nothing, I was bullied at school, I didn't pay attention in classes because I had no interest there, but since I have grown and made my own passages in life, gained certain experiences I have found some things that I love.
Having found these things, it has taken me on many more expeditions, after my accident I decided to quit working as a club performer and go and work with te POOKa on a new fire show. Te POOKa, lead me on to do many shows all over the U.K but working as a different kind of performer to what I had spent a year or so doing as a club performer.
Without passages in life, life would be boring, no one can see into the future, so you just have to take life as it comes and make your own decisions.
I hope by my writing this will show others inspiration in life and in Poi and other performance arts but also giving a little more understanding of myself and what I am about, and why I do what I do.
Many thanks for taking the time to read what I have written.
© 2005, PK , New Zealand