New Zealand (Aotearoa)
The Maori of Aotearoa (New Zealand) are the southernmost members of the
race, and oral tradition places their homeland in the mythical island of
Hawai'iki. The Maori name for their land means "the land of the long white
cloud." For thousands of years the Maori have retained their knowledge
of natural lore and spiritual understanding of this world, inspired by
the beauty and splendor of their land.
The dance of the Maori people was originally performed for social and
religious reasons. The Haka is a dance usually accompanied by chant, which
is typified by numerous hand gestures and limited torso movement. Haka
means dance, and Waiata means song, so Haka Waiata are "action songs" which
tell a story. Men, women and children sang and danced these action songs.
It is said that the Haka was designed and performed to gain a psychological
advantage, to give the participants courage and determination to perform
great feats. Waiata (song) is an essential element to maintaining the oratorical
history and genealogy of Maori society. Each tribe has its own repertoire,
with many of its chants composed centuries ago. There are a great number
of these chants, with their number being added to by the contemporary compositions
being performed in the traditional style.
The Poi dance (Haka Poi) features a soft ball stuffed with down, derived
from a traditional weapon. The outside is covered with a thin layer of
flax and is then suspended on a cord made of flax fiber. The poi is then
swung around the body in various patterns that suggest forces of nature
such as birds in flight, waterfalls, or summer rain. There are two main
types of poi, the long and the short poi. Both are used in kapa haka performances.
The long poi is mainly used for spinning movements and actions. The short
poi was used for flicking, catching and slapping movements to mark a rhythm
of a song.
In ancient times they were used either by men (among the tribes of the
eastern seaboard), to strengthen the warriors' wrists for battle, or by
women to make wrists flexible, since all clothing was woven by hand. Although
the Haka was often done at tribal ceremonies, it is also used to welcome
friends and visitors to one's village. The poi is also used for rites of
passage such as the welcoming of guests, the celebration of important events
and the fare welling of the dead. With its hypnotic, rhythmic motion the
women also used poi to lull the tamariki (children) or mokopuna (grandchildren)