Poi E turns 40: 'A very emotional but beautiful time'

By Kelvin McDonald
Source / File

The 40th anniversary of the Pātea Māori Club's anthem Poi E is being celebrated in Taranaki this weekend.

“We are so humbled that we gather together this weekend to celebrate Poi E. It’s a chance to revive all our waiata passed on from our old people to the young. A very emotional but beautiful time,” said Pātea Māori Club chair Laura Mendes in a statement Friday.

Te Pāti Māori co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer (Ngāti Ruanui, Ngāruahine and Ngā Rauru) will be among those celebrating. 

“Iwi of Taranaki and Ngāti Ruanui will be reminiscing the past 40 years of Poi E, composed by Maui Carlyle Dalvanius Prime, this weekend," Ngarewa-Packer said.

“Dalvanius was born and raised in Pātea, South Taranaki. Back then, the community relied on the Pātea meat works as the main supplier of employment for our people. However, its closure in 1982 caused significant social issues for our w’ānau, meaning most had to relocate to more urban towns whilst others struggled significantly.

“The composition of Poi E by Dalvanius Prime and Ngoi Peiwhairangi came after the closure. The anthem acknowledges the Pātea community, and the implications caused. Instilling hope in our people to carry on."

The waiata promoted the use of Te Reo Māori and still does today, Ngarewa-Packer said.

"You ask any non-Māori born in Aotearoa, and I'm sure they’ll know one or two lines of the waiata.”

Poi E became a hit in 1984, spending four weeks at no. 1 and 22 weeks on the NZ music charts, before charting again in 2010, peaking at no. 3, after Taika Waititi used the song in his popular movie, Boy. 

In 2016 director Tearepa Kahi (Muru, Mt. Zion) released a feature-length documentary, Poi E: The Story of Our Song, sharing memories associated with the iconic song.

Overseas Poi E was big as well, with the Pātea Māori Club touring the United Kingdom in 1984, playing at the London Palladium and the Edinburgh Festival and giving a Royal Command Performance. British magazine New Musical Express also named Poi E its single of the week, the website NZ History says. 

“We are hugely proud of Poi E achieving this milestone for the Pātea community and Te Reo Māori in Aotearoa. The poi can be likened to the fantail flying through a forest, just like tangata whenua finding their way through colonisation, land loss and reclamation of identity,” said Ngarewa-Packer.

“The loss of rural jobs in small town communities has to this day had devastating and longing effects for Māori. This anthem inspires our own to use Te Reo Māori, to be proud to be Māori and that like a fantail, we will eventually find our way.”