Poi originated with the indigenous Maori people of New Zealand hundreds of years ago. The word “poi” is a Maori word meaning “ball on a string.” When the Maori people began using poi, they were made of natural fibers called muka, and the cord came from the middle of a raupo stem. More modern poi are constructed from durable, synthetic fibers of bright colors. The Maori people did not light poi as a tradition. Fueled and lit poi became a technique in the mid 20th century.
The Maori people originally used poi to train for battle or hunting because the weight of the balls increased one’s wrist strength and flexibility that made it easier to use other weapons. In addition, women used poi on long canoe voyages to help male paddlers keep their rhythm. Currently, poi is used as a tool to express stories through dance. For example, dances honoring war, such as the kapa haka, incorporate poi into the choreography and are performed during special events and festivals.