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we first built them with

rock and stone from

the moana


they were to keep the

sand from washing into the water

and the earth on the ground


our borders were natural

but then paasipooti entered the tongan vernacular

and we were kept in and out


european pencil lines drawn around

our own plantations

breadfruit trees left to grow over boundaries


prison walls shut before countries do

& pandemics discriminate

& we didn’t come up with the idea of borders


they scar Indigenous skin



new zealand’s perimeter was shut when

the country was overrun with sheep

because there were enough pale hands for shearing


then the trees weighed heavy

with stone fruit and berries

so they opened the gates


and told us to come in

& make ourselves at home

we shelled peas


sanded branches into chairs

and blackberry juice stained

our hands


we bagged rotting apricots to take to our

weather board state houses

our children dripped with juice


we dug makeshift ‘umu into the ground

to make our backyards smell like tonga

and samoa and niue


but winter came

the trees frosted

and stopped talking


leaves became snowflakes and fruit sunk into the mud

our feet got stuck too

so we were told to leave


sweet fruit breaks backs



in te papa’s pacific cultures collection

a 1976 immigration poster tells people

to register and return home with dignity


we no longer had the right

to breathe on land we were lured over to maintain

leave without stigma it reads


the notice is first in english

then samoan

then tongan


forty-four years later i read it in english

and the words block my breath

then i stumble through the tongan


i wonder who translated it

i wonder if they were allowed to stay


everyone else had until the 30th of June 1976 to leave

after which police began to beat through state houses

and any place that looked like it would house brown


they placed borders around our suburbs and dreams

before we could even think about

stepping outside them



the media say south auckland with twisted mouths

like it it’ll dirty your hands

if you hold it for too long


but south auckland is where

i first heard tongan not from my father’s mouth

& its where you can buy an overflowing bag of keke for $3


i wander its streets

and carefully place the familiar smells

of me’akai into my backpack


no one here minds that i mispronounce

my own words

they smile and nod and say malo



march 2020

and tonga has shut their borders

to both foreigners and nationals


we are all landlocked by the sea



new zealand’s borders are now shut too

the virus sits on the outer line of the map

we are told to stay inside


so i call my uncle

but i don’t know how to translate pandemic into tongan

i have always sat on the border of my ancestors’ tongue




for blue uniforms again


there are brown bodies


behind the floor length curtains


and in the basement

police are allowed in

but we aren’t allowed out


borders are erected between communities and painted blue

because they are building

safer communities together?



yesterday i saw a tweet that said


i laughed & sent a screenshot to my fāmili whatsapp


last time my Pop was 


in the street


asked for his papers

while others walked past

even though he was here legally


my ancestors weaved their violent colonial experiences

into a soft skin for me to wear

so i’m safe


dawn means that light fills my room

dawn does not mean that

blue vests are surrounding my house


yesterday i sat in the library and laughed at the tweet 

& history repeating itself because 

its quieter to laugh than wail



august 2020

new cases of community transmission

a cluster has formed in south auckland


when you’re a minority

its never good to read the comments

but i can’t help seeing them anyway


on every livestream

under every news article

in popular pākehā columns


i’m not going to write them down

we’ve heard them all before

they don’t deserve any space on the page


but south auckland knows about pandemics

the way it knows about borders

this isn’t the first one Pasifika communities have faced


i watch my people drive to testing stations

and hear their accounts of waiting in line for hours

to have swabs pushed up their noses


new zealand builds colonial borders around brown people

but Pasifika peoples have the highest covid testing rates

closely followed by Māori


i cry when i see these statistics

dealing with a pandemic is an Indigenous way of knowing

we know how to keep communities safe



the fonua in tonga waits patiently

for us to come home

i dream of how i’ll sneak through borders on both sides


but how am i meant to imagine anything different

to the current bone prison in which i reside?

my imagination is colonised


and my hands are not much better



the lines on the ground between

us | them

get thicker


with every legislation

with every mispronounced Indigenous name

the lines get darker


every time i can’t remember a tongan word

every time Pasifika and Māori peoples are blamed

every time south auckland is circled in blood red on the front page of the newspaper


we rub saltwater on the blood borders

but they don’t dissolve

sink deeper into our skin



if covid-19 becomes memory

people will fly to the islands again

and leave more than footprints in the sand


their boarding passes will be encrusted in gold

with seats six feet apart

and the food will be served on silver platters


we will be priced out of coming home to our fonua

instead having to dream of

the bright blues and seas of coconut trees


build a bridge between here and there

but who will be allowed to walk it?

will people forget that we are explorers?



this new world is the old world

but the sick are sicker

poor, poorer


fruit hangs heavy on the trees

faces are masked by apathy

and dawn lingers longer than it needs to


the borders are cemented shut

unless a film crew wants to shoot a blockbuster in wellington

so i fill myself up with silence


there are shadow lines

that the light does not touch

my older selves shudder


but they lift my hands to the hand sanitiser each time i enter a building

because this is an Indigenous way of knowing

our ancestors know

Written by Rhegan Tu'akoi | Mentored by Hana Pera Aoake

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