The dame who holds a world record for 30 hours of non-stop poi

By Jessica Tyson

There have been many prominent kapa haka performers over the years but none of them holds a world record like Dame Aroha Reriti-Crofts'.

In 1976, she performed the poi for 30 hours and 19 minutes straight, raising $400 for the Waitaha Cultural Council.  

She was first inspired by the former world record holder, Rangi Greg to make the new record.

“Rangi Greg said to me, ‘Aroha why don’t you try and break my record… I have done 26 hours of the poi. You can break that easily’.”

So Rangi joined Dame Aroha for the first hour. Dame Aroha says it was a great experience and she remembers being allowed five minutes every hour to rest.

“My tuakana would massage my legs and then people would come and we’d have kai, there would be singing. Te Waipounamu College girls came and they put on a show …We had a great lot of fun.”

Dame Aroha, 83, says she still does the poi today to exercise her shoulders and neck.

“I do it 10 minutes every day… Using the poi to exercise my shoulders could well be good or any kaumātua to exercise their shoulders and necks,” she says.

Performing for the Māori Battalion

Dame Aroha, of Ngāi Tūāhuriri and Ngāi Tahu, grew up with a passion for performing. It has provided her with precious memories including welcoming the Māori Battalion back from the war. 

“At seven years of age, I was there with the Tuahiwi School group standing on the wharf up in Wellington on January 23, 1946, when the Māori Battalion came off that boat, the Dominion Monarch.”

At the time someone on the wharf criticised the children for being there, but Dame Aroha’s uncle Tiare “ripped into them”, she says.

“[He said] these children here are uri of those men who are coming off that ship. Not only that, they are uri of those who will not ever return home throughout our country.”

Dame Aroha started her lifelong commitment to community service when she joined the Maori Women’s Welfare League in 1968. She became president from 1990 to 1993.

In 2020 she was honoured for her services to Māori and the community but, like many of her peers, she was reluctant to accept the acknowledgement.

“I thought, what would people think of me if I accept this. I was very fearful of it. On the other hand, I was also excited," she says.

“I then decided, 'stop this nonsense, someone nominated you, someone thought you were worthy of this honour', so I then decided that I would accept.”

Despite being a dame, her responsibility first is to her whānau, hapū and iwi, she says.

“For me, the dame is te ao Pākeha, is an acknowledgement of what I did over the years. I didn’t do everything on my own. I’m a team player. There’s always been a team. If somebody else wasn’t there, then I wasn’t there.”

Dame Aroha Reriti Crofts appeared on Te Ngākau Tapatahi, a show profiling Māori dames and knights. The new series from the Māori Television newsroom is running this week on Māori Television at 12pm. Find the first five episodes on Māori+ now and the full series from Sunday, January 23.