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A brief history of Maori Spinning

Greg Schoppe

Fire Poi, a fire art in which lit wicks are spun on cords around the body to create patterns, has its earliest roots in the creation of the paste-like food of the same name. The females of the Maori, a group native to New Zealand, would create this food by beating Taro roots wrapped in leaves against rocks. This beating was performed in each hand, so as to keep muscle development even and double the output. This action gradually worked its way into cultural traditions such as fertility rituals and the leaf wrapped roots were replaced with weights on the ends of short cords called haka-poi. The overall motion, however, was still a rhythmic beating of the poi against body parts. Apparently, the male Maori began to see the use that poi had in developing musculature and coordination. It is believed that longer versions of haka-poi were developed for training and contests of skill and daring began. These longer poi were used slightly

BearClaw Fire Poi
differently, using more fluid motions with less contact with the body. Eventually the weights were replaced with wicks for some displays and fire poi was created. Fire poi appeared en masse in Britain and then America, the first sightings occurring in the mid 70s. They quickly gained popularity as a yo-yo like toy, a circus act, and (utilizing phosphorescent illumination) as club entertainment. From these countries, they progressed to Germany, Israel, and hundreds of other countries. Similar arts developed in China (meteor), and Japan (Kusari-sama). Poi has become known by many different names in different styles or groups. The art has been called flagging, glowstringing, twirling, spinning, poi-ing, pois-ing, fire dancing (includes other arts), and fire juggling (not to be confused with actually juggling fire).

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