Poi āwhiowhio can be translated to mean whistling gourd. They are made from a small or medium sized hue (gourd) and have one hole on the side. String is attached to the neck end of the hue and feather baffles at the other. Like other types of poi used by Māori, the poi āwhiowhio is a spun instrument.
Ancestral Māori used the hue for many different purposes. The hue were dried then hollowed out, the larger ones most often being fashioned into vessels for storing food or carrying water. Sometimes small hue were used to make musical instruments or to store perfume, whilst others served the important function of storing karakia (prayers) that could be released from the hue in times of need.
In Māori creation stories, there was fighting amongst the atua (spiritual entities) after the separation of Ranginui and Papatuanuku. Hine Pū te Hue intervened and brought peace and through this act became known as the atua of peace. She is often associated with the calming of storms and the settling of worries. Hine Pū te Hue is the kaitiaki (custodian) for the hue. Understanding this gives us an insight into the use of her instruments. All of the Māori musical instruments made from hue are like their kaitiaki and sing songs that are peaceful. The hue itself is often a symbol of peace. Poi āwhiowhio produce a soft whistling chatter when spun, a soothing voice of Hine Pū te Hue that creates a peaceful atmosphere, reminding us of a forest full of bird song.
In Māori tradition, birds are respected and valued animals as they can sometimes bring important messages from the spirit world. The poi āwhiowhio is similar to other Māori instruments as it can be used to attract birds for the purpose of interacting with them. This can be for the simple pleasure of enjoying the interaction with the birds and their song, or as part of Māori spiritual practices. As a noun, whio is the name for rare blue grey duck endemic to Aotearoa. The whio takes it's name from the call of the male bird and can sound similar to the poi āwhiowhio.
Today, poi āwhiowhio are sometimes used as an atmospheric sound for meditation practises and can be played as a soothing instrument to assist with transition into sleep. Sometimes they are used as accompaniment for karakia (prayers), in particular prayers for peace. The MP3 below is a short sample of a small poi āwhiowhio.