The sound of poi

Georgia Latu is the chief executive of Pōtiki Poi and a high-school student in Dunedin.

Written by      

Qiane Matata-Sipu

“I was born in West Auckland, and moved with my mum to Dunedin when I was about two years old. I’m in Year 10 and hopefully finishing NCEA Level Two this year—that’s the goal. I’ve got two siblings living with me at home but I’ve got 11 across the motu. That’s a fact that not many people know, because not all of them are with me. But I’ve got Apiteniko. He’s our pōtiki—he’s two.

A few years ago, I needed to fundraise for a school trip and mum goes, “Why don’t you just make poi? You’ve been making poi your whole life, you’ve gifted them to hoa for birthdays.”

We started fundraising and in three days I think we made about $1000. It was definitely a door that opened up to a whole new ao. It was a big part of my life at that time, because we’d just finished a kapa haka competition where we used our poi.

We seriously didn’t think it was gonna get like this. But my auntie was working for a business start-up platform with mentors to help pakihi. They were holding a 48-hour boot camp where pakihi come, and they pitch their idea and they try and win $10,000. We went there and it was like a pressure cooker. People were really questioning us. But we won the People’s Choice Award, and then won pitching competitions, and got on TV, and that’s when we transitioned into becoming more of a pakihi.

Now we’re in a shop and have help from Cargill Enterprises, so we employ people with diverse abilities to help make poi with us and give back to that side of the community as well. They don’t get paid minimum wage—they get paid a living wage. All of our poi are sourced from second-hand materials, biodegradable plastic, because I don’t want to hurt Papatūānuku.

When we were creating our ingoa, Pōtiki Poi, we wanted to make sure we acknowledged the past, present and future. So the past is Tahu Pōtiki, my tupuna, who led our people to the South Island. Then our future is Api because he has trisomy 21—Down syndrome. We know that it will be hard for him in the future, but if we don’t make a change now, who will?

So, acknowledging him, and hopefully he will take the pakihi—well, that was the initial whakaaro. Now I think he’s going to be a builder. He’s not gonna want to do it. He already has that attitude, like, ‘Ugh, poi shop.’

When we were sourcing the materials, we needed something that made a good sound. I really loved the beat of our poi. But Api started eating our poi. We were like, ‘Kao, pēpi, kaue e kai āue i tērā because it’s plastic, kaore te pai.’ And so we were just playing around and made material ones so pēpi could actually eat it and so it was like another teething tool.

Actually, a lot of people have this problem where their poi, the baby gets into it, the cat gets into it and it starts ripping. So we made the material ones just for pēpi to eat and then thought, ‘Okay, material looks really pretty. Let’s put plastic underneath it.’

Api has really influenced this business. All we have to do is let him eat a poi for us to get a new idea. We just call him the homie with the extra chromie. He’s just got extra everything. We have someone that has extra love, extra anger sometimes. He has his moments.

I think being 14 years old gives me understanding of being a rangatahi. I’ll be in a business room where I get totally ignored and no one will talk to me and then they’ll go, ‘Oh what are you here for, hun? Is your dad doing something?’ ‘No, kao, ko au te CEO of this business.’

If it’s hard for me to get noticed, how much harder will it be for Api to grow up in this world and for other rangatahi? I think it’s been cool having this extra side hustle going on and just being another girl, you know, playing softball for example, and then I’ll be on the TV and people go, ‘What the heck, you got a business?’

I’m guessing we’ve made at least 50,000 poi. That’s school orders, that’s earrings and that’s other things. We have stockists overseas—we have a lot of whānau on the Gold Coast and they need a part of themselves with them. Hopefully, one day, it’s my goal to go to Japan to see where our poi are.

My kuia passed away from cancer nearly two years ago, but she was one of the most driven people in my whole life. So when she wanted to do something, she would go and get it. She has probably been that seed that has been planted in me that I want to grow on her behalf.

When she passed away, it was very, very tough. Because we had this business to run, we had kura, we had whānau. And it really took a toll on my mental health. And I didn’t feel like I was living up to what my ideal Georgia is. And I felt like I couldn’t fulfill that. And what I learned from that was I just have to be myself.

I want to make sure that our knowledge will be around us at all times, not just in schools or university but as a living practice.

But for wāhine in particular, we’ve got the goods, we can bring it to the table. We’re all in this waka together. We’ve been fighting this fight for years now. And we’re getting to a point where we are winning this battle against barriers and hurdles. We are on this journey to create a better society where we can be proud of who we are.