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.

Want to know more? Click here.

Political influence on an infant: the Walter Nash effect

Oral culture has everything to recommend it not least because so much of our personal history and so many of our experiences are enshrined, and thereby perpetuated, in story. For as long as I can remember – and even longer – this simple story was told …

When I was just 11 months old, my parents took me on holiday. That meant they had to take my pram as well, which in turn meant they had to take the little grey truck to cart me and my clutter about. For a night or two, may be more – can’t quite remember now – we stayed at the Fox Glacier Hotel in South Westland. One of the fellow guests was none other than the then Labour opposition leader, Walter Nash.

In typical whimsical, tongue-in-cheek, throwaway manner, my father apparently said to my mother, “Wouldn’t it be funny if we were seated at the same dining table as ‘old Walter’?” Someone must have overheard, because that is exactly what happened! And at that very table, an apparently very genial, well-humoured, child-friendly politician played ‘peep-bow’ through the flowers with me.

End of story? Well, almost, but not entirely.

Every story has a context which, when thoroughly interrogated, delivers  multi-layered, multi-dimensional and multi-coloured understandings. And this one is no exception.

The little grey truck I can actually just remember. In today’s parlance, it would be a ‘ute’. Not quite a Holden or a Ford, but certainly an assertive declaration of my father’s ‘farmer’ occupation. I’ve since checked up: this little grey truck was an International, Series ‘D’ model.  When I saw one of identical pedigree, beautifully restored to immaculate glory on display at a vintage tractor rally a few years ago, I went particularly gooey in the marshmallow portion of my inner person and thought most fondly and romantically of my first holiday, Fox Glacier Hotel, flowers and Walter Nash.

But there’s another level of association with this simple story that pertains to the treatment of eczema.  For those of us then afflicted with such a skin condition, the only known treatment was a hideously greasy, lanolin-based ‘ointment’.  At this point politics and medicine collide. Walter Nash’s  esteemed presence was sufficient to provoke my mother to declare she was not taking a greasy-faced child down to breakfast any more. So, from that point on, there was no more smearing of eczema with greasy ointment. More significantly, from that point on, the eczema simply disappeared. At this point I must now publicly declare my enormous gratitude to the late Sir Walter Nash for healing me of eczema.

Always fired with enthusiasm and passion to share New Zealand’s unique and amazing history, I’ve just reacquainted myself with one of this country’s foundational social historians, the late Keith Sinclair, and his biography of Walter Nash.  Simply titled, “Walter Nash”, and published in 1976 by the Auckland and Oxford university presses, its chapter titles from Nash’s time as Labour Party secretary (1922-32) roughly parallel successive phases and markers in both Nash’s political career and my father’s life.  But that is an altogether different set of stories …

I retain more fond memories of the Fox Glacier Hotel to which we returned some four years later on a family holiday. By then I had a gorgeous, impish and fun-loving younger brother, but our antics of this time are not really the stuff of blogs. As for flowers, they’re best left on the Fox Glacier Hotel dining room table, usefully serving the needs of Walter Nash and me.

By Dr Jennie Coleman

9 April 2010