What makes a poi? Traditional materials

Historically, poi were made from natural materials like harakeke, and raupō. Learn about older poi in our collections, and explore the techniques and stories that are intertwined with this practice in te ao Māori.

In the past, poi were used to make the wrists more flexible for hand-to-hand combat, and, among some iwi, were called upon by tohunga during karakia to help connect the spiritual and physical worlds. The poi tradition continues today, preserved by women in kapa haka groups.

Poi kupenga – net weaving poi

This poi has been woven using tā kupenga. Long strands of muka have been prepared using miromiro to form long lengths of cord. The prepared cord has then been threaded onto a ngira and a structured latticework of netting has then been woven by hand from top to bottom to form the ball.

Poi (kinetic percussion instrument), weaver unknown, muka, dye, raupō down, 1800–1910, New Zealand. Te Papa (ME002846)

Poi raupō – bullrush poi

A pair of round-shaped poi made of prepared raupō leaf wrapped longitudinally around a core of paper and tied with cotton thread at the neck.

Poi (kinetic percussion instrument), maker unknown, raupō (bulrush), muka (New Zealand flax fibre), paper, plastic, paint. 1850–1950. Te Papa (ME011443/1)

Poi tāniko – woven poi

These poi have been made using the tāniko technique seen on the ornamental borders of prestigious cloaks. The word ‘Mihi’ has been woven on the poi in an elaborate pattern and could refer to the owner, a significant tupuna, or even a greeting during a performance.

Poi taniko (percussive device), weaver unknown; 1800-1900; New Zealand. Acquisition history unknown. Te Papa (ME003940)

Poi awe – ceremonial poi

Not all Māori poi (balls on cords) are used in cultural performances. This is an old and extremely rare ceremonial poi. It is intricately woven from a single strand of flax fibre, with dog-hair decoration. The ‘papakirango’ diamond pattern signifies spiritual protection.

Poi awe (percussive device), 19th century, New Zealand, maker unknown. Te Papa (ME000150)

Watch Tales of Te Papa: Poi Awe to find out more about the Poi awe: