After getting home from school, finishing a two-hour-long assessment and winning a school business award, 16-year-old Georgia Tiatia Fa’atoese will spend her evenings crafting 22,000 poi with her whānau and community. 

Poi are the sound and symbol of this year’s Rugby World Cup and on Saturday, the Black Ferns will be running onto the field to the sound of thousands of thumping poi. 

Pōtiki Poi, Georgia’s business she co-founded with her mum Anna, are in charge of delivering the largest poi order in history to make this vision come to life.

“How do I balance things? The truth of the matter is that I don't,” she laughs.

“A lot of people have told me to slow down but if I don't make change now, who will? When will it happen? You have to feel the fear and do it anyway.”

The story behind Pōtiki Poi

Georgia started Pōtiki Poi from her lounge in Dunedin in 2019 when she was just 12. 

At the time her baby brother Api was born with Down Syndrome and so Georgia saw Pōtiki Poi as not only a business to support tangata whenua but also the people in her community with diverse abilities like her brother. 

“‘Pōtiki’ translates to the youngest child which has a hononga to Api. Then we have Tahu Pōtiki who was my ancestor who led my people down to the South Island from the North. So the name acknowledges our past, present, and future.” she says.

“We realised we had an opportunity to give back to our community and create a place that could support people like Api.”

Three years down the track Pōtiki Poi is now the largest poi manufacturer in the world - employing 15 people and supported by 30 volunteers as well as people in the community with diverse abilities. 

Georgia prefers to use the mana-enhancing term ‘diverse abilities’ rather than disabled because she says “everyone is diverse in their own way”.

Georgia acts as chief executive of the company, alongside her mum Anna as Georgia isn’t able to own the business until she turns 18. 

Poi at the Rugby World Cup

The vision to have poi play a role in the Rugby World Cup was thought up by Dame Hinewehi Mohi, who famously sang the reo Māori version of the anthem at the 1999 Rugby World Cup.

“She came up with the idea to revitalise another taonga Māori. First, it was te reo, now it’s poi,” Georgia says. 

“A lot of people struggled with the idea of having poi in such a public space. But for myself, I think it is another avenue to revitalise our taonga.”

Georgia sees poi as an extension of who she is as a young Māori wahine. 

“Poi is a tool used to strengthen people. When you look back at history, poi were used to strengthen male wrists before they went to battle. Now it’s used to whakamana (empower) each other and the Black Ferns.

“We've never seen something like this happen before,” Georgia says. 

“This is history-making mahi.”

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated Georgia was 15. She is 16. 

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