Poi for protest, poi for peace, poi for unity

Poi for Protest

The hands embroidered on this poi are shackled – but when using poi, hands move freely. Twirling poi can be a defiant act in the face of oppression.

He poi manu, made by Ngahina Hohaia (1975–) Parihaka, Ngāti Moeahu, Ngāti Haupoto iwi (tribes), Greece/Ireland, 2012. Recycled woollen blanket, calico, embroidery cottons. Gift of Teina Davidson, 2012. Te Papa (GH017810) 

Taranaki artist Ngahina Hohaia (Te Āti Awa, Ngāti Ruanui, Ngāti Moeahu, Ngāti Haupoto and Greek descent) creates poi artworks using recycled blankets, drawing inspiration from her ancestors’ ancient tradition of poi manu. Poi manu is the ceremonial use of poi by Taranaki and Whanganui iwi where women use poi to set the rhythm for reciting ancestral knowledge, powerfully reinforcing the strength of whakapapa and connection to place.

This poi is one of a series that refers to the 1881 storming of Parihaka, Hohaia’s papakāinga. Government troops had been ordered to crush Parihaka’s campaign of non-violent resistance to colonial rule.

They were met by women chanting with poi, children skipping, and with the peaceful offering of bread. This act of courage and rejection of tyranny continues to inspire those working for peace and social justice.

Poi for peace

Poi, along with pussyhats, were an expression of women’s diversity and unity at the International Women’s Peace Walk in Wellington, on 8 March 2017.

A round ball made of polyethylene with a wool and polyester cord attached to it.

At the end of the walk, organiser Maata Wharehoka shared her deep knowledge of poi’s meaning and importance in Maori culture, then lead a poi-making workshop and a poi dance demonstration.

The poi created a link to the peaceful protests at Parihaka marae, Taranaki, in the 1880s. Māori women and men made a stand against racial inequity and colonial oppression but were savagely attacked by British militia.

Poi for unity

In 2021, the New Zealand Rugby World Cup worked with Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei, NZ Rugby Māori Cultural Advisor Luke Crawford, Whangārei Hapu group, and poi tohunga Pere Wihongi to launch a way to unite Aotearoa New Zealand Rugby fans by offering free poi at the stadiums to twirl in support of the wāhine toa on the field.

The movement was called Wā Poi (It’s Poi Time) and also worked as a global showcase for poi as a Māori taonga, while making sure it was tika, as well as being a significant symbol to the people of Aotearoa New Zealand.

Poi, maker unknown for the Rugby World Cup 2021, 2022. Te Papa (TMP047908)