Porotiti are spinning discs that rotate around two parallel strings. The porotiti is wound around the strings, then the player gently pulls on each end of the strings and the instrument winds and unwinds, producing a whirring hum as it rotates. They can also be blown on as they rotate, which creates a slightly different sound. The sound varies depending on the size, shape and material of the instrument. Porotiti are made from a variety of materials including pounamu (NZ greenstone), bone and wood.
Porotiti are sometimes spoken of as children's toys however they also have sacred uses as accompaniments to karakia (prayers) and as song catchers. The voice of a spinning porotiti is calming and meditative. The sound vibration together with the player's finger movements assist with flexibility in finger joints and relief from arthritis pain. When played over the faces and chests of people, the vibration has balancing and cleansing effects.
Porotiti are wind voices and come from Tāwhirimātea, the atua (spiritual entity) of the winds. The howling and eerie sounds of the winds are often acknowledged as messages from the spirit world. Sometimes porotiti produce unexpected sounds which are considered special as they are perceived as spirit voices joining in with the song.
Pictured: Pounamu porotiti made by Jeremy Cloake, length 92mm. This porotiti has been given the name Te Puna, in this case meaning a spring of water. See the video demonstration below of a spinning wooden porotiti which has been given the name Hakuwai, the now extinct giant eagle of Aotearoa. As you watch this video you will hear the voice of a bird that was intrigued by the sound from the porotiti and flew over to take a look and sing along.