strands

 

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

 

houses 

unlock 

for blue uniforms again

 

there are brown bodies

hiding

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

DAWN RAIDS 2020

i laughed & sent a screenshot to my fāmili whatsapp

 

last time my Pop was 

stopped 

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

© 2019 by Tupuranga

  • Instagram
  • Facebook
  • Twitter