My Māori father visited me, moemoeā
How apt during a pandemic
He lived his life under level 4 lockdown
“No interactions please, if you come too close,
You’ll catch my dis-ease”.
My father visited me in the middle of the night.
I sped up and he hid.
When I got out of the car
The light came back into the world.
Dust under my shoes stirred, like in Old Westerns.
You know Redcliffs when earth shook and cliffs crumbled?
They cut away the danger and fenced it up.
Yeah, I’ve been doing that our entire relationship, Dad.
So I walk off the cliff.
I step down, step after step after step, downward.
Dirt crumbling under foot until a flat surface cradles me.
Shit I was cute as a baby.
I had pink and white polka-dot bows and
Big black eyes that swallow biases.
I hear myself giggling threw newly cut teeth,
Plump cheeks brimming with sunshine,
Swinging in my dad's arms,
A whole family behind him.
The sight sinks into my puku,
Fat and hard from years of filling it
With cortisol and fried potato.
Screaming into a void as black
As my big baby eyes
I karanga to my dad
“Come out, come hug me”
I beg. I cry.
“Why are you so sad?”
It's not his voice but I pretend it is.
He is gentle, he embraces me.
It's not his kindness
but I pretend it is.
Our identity as Māori women has been complicated by colonisation and imperialism. Gemmell (2013) discusses how we were “ousted” through superior Westernised systems that saw Māori cultural ways of being as inferior, namely “legislation, education and religion” (Mikaere, 2003; Smith, 1993 in Gemmell, 23, p.52).
Christchurch Public Hospital.
Tiny grey pebbles like millions of ticks lay the path to the entrance. Dark brown walls encompass the entrance. Thick, dark columns, like ribs, line up outside the double automatic doors, stretching toward the road.
The entrance is difficult to get to. If you're coming from the city you have to turn right at the lights, curve past the Womens Hospital to get to another intersection where you don't have the right of way, wait. Pedestrians and cars entering from the road, left to the hospital entrance, or, straight ahead to the ambulance bay and A&E. Once you're in line you’re at the mercy of anyone in front of you. Oh and this is only the drop off location. Finding a car park is a game of chance - you'll end up selling a kidney to pay for it too.
The main entrance is always full of people waiting. People waiting in wheelchairs. People with masks on. People looking frail. People looking miserable. The weather shelter over the entire entrance used to be white, but now, it is so dull and makes all of us dull.
When I picture the entrance it's always cold and rainy. I see my mother in her bright clothing, little blue turban bobbing, as she hobbles her way through the entrance, or, on worse days, standing and waiting, mask on, for an orderly with a wheelchair.
A tsunami of tapir
appear off the shore threatening
to swallow the cove
Like the man who ate all the honey
The tapir, with a trunk, is not a good ocean swimmer
Its snout is kept above white petals
White boiling water
Salt to taste
Sand to grit
Ayoréo tell the oral history of tapir
Pooping different types of honey while transporting a man away from a tree
Ayoréo are true people
Human beings contacted in 1720 by Jesuits
Abandoned by 1740
Chaco war brings 100,000 troops, and diseases
Bolivia & Paraguay see them as a ‘problem’ and encourage the murder and stealing of Ayoréo children
A tsunami of tapir breaks over me
I wake up and I’m still Māori.
My Mother wanted me to inherit her blue eyes. She would express this with a sigh whilst looking into my own muddy brown irises, as she conjured a sandy skinned, sky-eyed ghost.
“But no, you got your fathers eyes...” she would breathe, and just like that, reality would slap her pink face, leaving her bereft of the child she wanted but would never have.
Interactions with my Pākeha mother are consistently traumatizing. That’s not to say that I don’t love her, she has been a strong support pou in my life, like, when shit’s gone south she’s always been there. But middle New Zealand is white, and its so deep in every interaction, even between Pākehā Mother and Māori Daughter the race dynamic is as unjust as Raupatu.
“I don’t see you as Māori…”
Western hegemonic ideologies also imbued class structure, gender discrimination and racism (Pihama, 2003), which formalised the process of “othering” (Foucault, 1964), therefore, creating oppressive conditions for the way Māori women were construed in Aotearoa.
Māori are obese.
We eat too much, drink too much.
We’re stupid, we don’t know how to look after ourselves.
It’s as easy as that.
Whina Cooper didn’t walk for the land marches.
She walked to lose weight.
Her Pākehā doctor told her she would die if she didn’t,
“Think of your moko-poona Whina”
Did you know a human heart contains approximately 651 calories?
The brain, spinal cord and nerves a mere 2,706 calories.
The entire body, around 125,822.
A feed for two dozen adults for a day.
We ate our enemies.
Desecrated their bodies for utu,
We ate our way around the isles.
My ancestors walked everywhere.
Even after the tsunami of colonisation,
They knew that Pākehā doctors would come,
They knew that Pākehā medicine would tell them they’re fat and lazy.
We don’t hikoi to protest.
We hikoi to lose weight.
Don’t you know that’s why Papatūānuku is so large?
Because she just lay there making babies.
She didn’t get out and exercise,
The only exercise she got was fucking Ranginui.
And Hine-nui-te-Pō’s thighs were so thick they crushed Maui,
She must’ve been huge.
If only she’d kept running past the dusk,
Maybe her thighs would’ve had a gap.
I was raised on a farm in the far north in a white Mormon family who weren’t really my family. They did not realise it was Ngā Puhi whenua. I was raised hearing “Bloody Mow-rees” and “You’re just like your father”. I was raised with “half-caste, dirty ass” and “Won-ga-ray” (Whangarei). I was raised with “Don’t play the race card” and “This is my n*gga cousin”.
White supremacy has steeped into my mauri. A lifetime of whiteness. A lifetime of being brown in a white world. A lifetime of being othered by the only family I was allowed to know.
A lifetime of
“I wish you were born with my eyes”
Hinemoana sings to me.
I dream of large waves often.
Tsunamis and tidal waves.
Large swells filling canyons.
They lap at the edges of cliffs.
We could jump in and swim, but the current is so strong.
2012 scared the shit out of me.
Noah's Ark did the same.
Why do we cinematize our deepest fears?
Have you seen White Lies e kare?
Sit on a shoreline and watch water spouts funnel above.
In the city and 100 foot waves demolish the buildings around me.
Up a maunga and the ocean rises
Driving and a tidal wave rears to the left.
Scrambling up a mountainous shelly beach.
The waves are relentless.
Sometimes I get swept away.
Sometimes I escape
But I never die.
I wonder what my tūpuna are trying to tell me.
“You have to really think about it, it’s there forever. Are you going to be happy as an old woman with a tattoo on your face?”.
I have spent my entire lifetime battling with my Māori identity, taking small steps toward the vast ocean that is Te Ao Māori. It’s like: my toes touch the cold water and retract, then eventually the shallows lap at my feet. I adjust. I move mere millimeters at a time. Te Ao Māori, from the Pākehā shoreline that I stand on, looks like large waves, meters in height; scarier than anything I have faced before. Like, I might drown if I end up out there.
My Mother and her people told me stories about those waves. They’re treacherous and violent. They are dark. They are cold and unrelenting. The Pākehā people I grew up with told me those waves were to be kept at a distance, away from the safety of the shoreline, with only the odd rolling wave (like my Father) crashing upon the sand, but not really making a dent in the beach itself.
What those on the shoreline did not tell me were the stories of how it became a Pākehā shoreline. How the shoreline and the waves are, in fact, not separate, but have been separated by centuries of pākehā laws, history, and education. That the shoreline is now home to skinny tanned white bodies, fitness, fashion, capitalism, individualism, exotification of the other, the nuclear family, Westminster law, and racism. The beach is a place which is “free to the public”, yet owned by the Crown. The beach is not for Māori ownership, unless Western Customary laws gift parcels back, or if the Crown doesn’t need the land for something else.
“Yeah and if they own the beach they’ll bloody charge us to go there - or not let us go at all!”
So even now, after trying to frantically unlearn the separation of Ocean and Land, piecing whakapapa and colonial learning together, I find it difficult to walk into the waves of Te Ao Māori.
“I wish you were born with my eyes”
Today my mother told me
she has lung cancer.
My drug of choice
a double cheeseburger
medium combo please.
I’m sitting on a hill
looking over a silty bay.
Tide’s out, waves pulled back
uncovering sand that feels
We used to walk this beach
Take dog and kid and limbs
Drink coffee and spray the beach
With our laughter
I know we’ll never do it again
My mother reminds me to think
Boomers love ignorance, right?
Bald, grey pallor,
a frail form squeezing out a smile.
Tubes that exchange mauri
Salt and pepper hair.
Salt tears meet salt swells.
Salty fries meet salty lips.
Salty thoughts means salty looks.
A salted spiral takes me down,
A wave sweeps me away from the shore.
Hā ki roto
Hā ki waho
Te hā, te hā, te hā.
We’re about to drown, so better breathe while we can.
Written by Siobhan Tumai | Mentored by Tusiata Avia