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Canoe Poi dance poster, 1950s

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GH009493 The Canoe Poi Dance Poster , 1950s

This is a tourism poster from the 1950s. It shows a young Māori woman, partly silhouetted, wearing traditional clothing. She is swinging a poi, a ball attached to string, with her right hand. The motion of the swinging poi has produced an 'atom' design. She is wearing a greenstone (New Zealand jade) pendant, or hei tiki, around her neck. Two shadows of the woman in differing shades of blue are set against a grey-blue background. The words 'The canoe poi dance' appear at the top of the poster and 'See it in fascinating New Zealand' at the bottom. A silk-screen print on paper, backed on linen, the poster measures 102.9 cm x 68.5 cm.

Source Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa

Educational value:
  • This asset indicates the significance of tourism to the New Zealand economy - New Zealand has always promoted its landscape and Indigenous people as being unique attractions, but has also suffered from its distance from other countries, a problem not alleviated until the advent of long-range jets in the 1960s.
  • It is an outcome of the early role of the government, in the absence of significant private enterprise investment, in promoting New Zealand as a tourist destination - it was published by the Department of Tourist and Health Resorts, which was established in 1901; a government-owned Tourist and Publicity Department was also created to market tourism to New Zealand; both actively used images of Māori as a marketing ploy to promote New Zealand as an exotic tourism destination.
  • It highlights the debate that has surrounded the use of Māori culture in marketing tourism to New Zealand - for many years Māori were expected to be figures in the landscape rather than active entrepreneurial participants in the industry and, as such, an emphasis was placed on the picture-postcard view of Māori culture; in the later decades of the 20th century, Māori tourism entrepreneurs incorporated Māori performance art forms such as poi dancing into many commercially successful ventures, thus developing tourism ventures on their own terms.
  • It features the poi, a light ball on a string, which was originally used by warriors to improve the dexterity of their wrists - the circular movements were central to the use of all weaponry but now mostly women dance with poi; poi can be held in the right hand and twirled and beaten back with the left hand with a variety of movements used over the shoulder, to the sides, the thighs, the knees, and the head in perfect time to the songs sung by the leaders to depict the story of a song; the sound of the poi can also be an integral component in a composition (for example, suggesting the fluttering of a bird's wings).
  • It illustrates the important art of kapa haka, a traditional Māori performance art form unique to New Zealand - this includes haka (challenge dance), poi (dance accompanied by song and rhythmic movements of the poi) waiata-a-ringa (action songs) and waiata tawhito (traditional chants); the significant Māori leader of the early 20th century, Sir Peter Buck, described haka poi when performed by a well-trained team as the most graceful of all Polynesian dances.
  • It represents a waka or canoe poi dance, but as this poster does not show both hands it is not possible to confirm that this is the case - waka poi involved the use of two short poi, while this poster shows the performer with one poi only, perhaps highlighting the fact that accuracy was not valued as the poster was aimed more at creating an exotic image of New Zealand.
  • It represents a connection with Polynesia and perhaps the ancestral homeland of Hawaiki as waka poi usually told the story of the migration from Polynesia to New Zealand and there are dances traditional to Hawaii, Samoa and Tahiti that have direct similarities to poi dancing.

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