The “Poi E” effect

Yes, “Poi E” is back in the news, back in our ears, back in the charts, and back on screen in more creative and innovative ways than ever before – this time in the cinema and on You-tube. Dalvanius Prime & Ngoingoi Pewhairangi created a legacy whose message is proving to be both timeless and universal.

Timeless, because after more than a generation we’re still excited about hearing it, we’re obviously excited about buying it, and so we keep playing it. “Poi E” is clearly responding positively to the process of natural selection. And universal, because there’s a critical element within the “Poi E” message which extends well beyond Maori culture.

Regardless of who we are, where we come from, what language we speak, our level of education, financial status or occupation, we all belong in greater or lesser degree to a family.  Every last one of us has a set of kinship connections through which we inherit or adopt a family culture.  Granted, some family cultures are better expressed than others; some are well documented, others hardly at all; some are richly endowed in anecdote, others remain devoid of oral culture. If Dalvanius & Ngoingoi could achieve what they have with “Poi E”, by packaging the message in such a way that it commands our attention, then surely there’s a lesson in it for the rest of us.

Frequently, I meet people who tell me they’d like to ‘tell their stories’: of their parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, and so on; of their emigration from the old country; of those who went to war and never came back; of districts and communities no longer visible; of organisations no longer functioning; of buildings still standing but now put to different uses; of schools and churches, of farms and businesses whose daily routines have been modernised beyond recognition; and means of transport only visible as ‘vintage demonstrations’ or static displays in a museum …  and so the strands of story become multi-layered, densely interwoven, and intensely complex.

Often, the next thing these same people say begins with “But … “

“… my family weren’t important people, they were just ordinary folk. Nobody would be interested in anything about them.”

“… I wish I had talked to or recorded ‘so-and-so’ before they died – they knew so much and now it’s all gone.”

“… I don’t know where to begin.”

“… my children don’t seem very interested. They never knew these people.”

“… how could I put together all the information I’ve already got, so that it makes sense?”

There is a growing realisation that the stories are important; that they must be passed down to the next generations. If the current ‘Gen Y’ and their children – the techno kids – are to connect with the stories that are their inheritance, the information must be presented in a format that is at once enticing and accessible. This means, we need to get creative and do it differently: same message, different packaging.

So, you might reasonably ask, “What does this different packaging look like?”

The answer to that question is less straight forward. There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ formula – it isn’t that simple. As with “Poi E”, the packaging must be enticing and the contents accessible. Gen X and Gen Y are utterly deserving of information about who they are as well as an understanding of what it is that they have inherited. However, they are discriminating, discerning and highly selective. How to make the material accessible is up to you; how they go about applying it is up to them. That’s the “Poi E” effect.

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