Manual for Cleaning Girls Who Need to Do Their Feaus but Have Got Too Much on Their Plate and Dreams on their Mind

For Tamara Tulitua, soft is the new strong. Through 7 new poems, she asks our Moana sisters, how are you going? like, really?

Remember telling me that her body was so beautiful

So beautiful it scared you

You said loving her was like trying to put

your arms around the sea

You said loving her was like dipping your

heart in salt water

You said she was a much better woman

than you would ever be


- Courtney Sina Meredith

This is a cartography of self-care: longitude of the feminine, latitude of rejuvenation. This is a lever to do the heavy lifting – shift thinking, mood, body, spirit inwards, then out. This is a text for sisters who say they’re looking after themselves but can’t afford the downtime. This is for the sisters who have never been told, being soft is your right too. Because, sis, soft is the new strong. This is an offering, as Babyface sang, for the lover in you.

<< >>

take your selves off sis

any that are draining the battery, hogging the bandwidth

uninstall and lay them over there

how you doing? like, really?

not how your

kids, parents, partner, other partner, work dynamics, mahi projects, day ones, workmates, studies, fa‘alavelave, church commitments, school fundraisers, sports coaching, fono convening, grants applications, selection
committee/DHB submission drafting, land-dispute settling, matai talanoa

are –

how is you?

<< >>
muamua: fofō

in every native

place a pair

of sisters

driven by the sound

of doves

the color of


- Haunani Kay Trask

you are laid out prone unravelled on the fala

i am sitting next to you, crossed legged

facing your body wrapped in your

‘ie lavalava tucked under your armpits, sulu ‘ao‘ao

your hair is piled on top of your head, fa‘apatu



your worries are over in the corner

eyeing us like small children kept from their mother

you keep trying to look behind to see them

i correct your position



i am loosening your ‘ie lavalava

rolling it to your hips

your shoulders and your spine

sigh in relief/seize in matamuli



what is the road of our spine

if not the passage of burdens visions dreams



the room is warm enough to

let the coconut oil sleep in silk,

fragrant promise

pour into my cupped palm

moso‘oi carrier scent fills the room

rubbing hands, heat summoning guidance

flight of fofō



my hands make the shape of a bird, manu

my thumbs at the centre with fanned fingers

manu lands softly on the centre point between your

shoulder blades

she feels her landing place


rise fall



i push my palms firmly against your back

slowly parting curtains,

repeat down your spine

slowly parting curtains,

repeat down your spine



we are in a fautasi, outrigger canoe

open sea

seated one behind the other

perfectly balancing the fautasi

rising sun

warmth beneath your skin



& sea and sky merge

until the horizon is

nothing but an

endless blue line

in every direction,

so that you are sailing,

not on the sea, as you

thought, but in a

perfectly blue, circular

bowl, never leaving

the centre



skin to skin

don’t we touch each other just to

prove we are still here?

sister to sister

paper doll chain

holding the centre



we are

sleeping flying fox

observe the

upside down hear the

invisible city of

moonwalking minds

slippery contortions

cat call you

strong brown (unfeeling) woman

fiapoto / aivalea

lazy fat brown bitch

pa‘umuku / tiapolo

violent aggro afro (circus)

le mafaufau / ulavale

masc beast kalo thighed

vae povi / auleaga

sexual demon dusky maiden

fiapalagi / fiatagata

now breathe



<<     now <<

>>      breathe       >>

stand at this intersection of

common non-sense –

feel the names they call you

shape of the words

their names are their minds

& not ours to hold

say out loud : 

I am.



water knows our name

women are seated at the river

sulu ‘ao‘ao, glory draped on one shoulder

clubbing the dirt from the ofu galuega

wringing the sweat from our brow

ease is our weapon from the water they say

vaitafe, sami, moana tele

we are home from

code switching our tongues

finger twitching under tables

shapeshifting our faces

we say out loud:

I am.

now, Be.

<< >>
lua: fa‘amama

I guess I see myself in her in the same way I see myself

in the twigs on the ground. Organic, snapped, brown.

- Tayi Tibble

i am speaking with the sea

i assume she’s always pleased to see me

though she has no choice

today is the fifth autumn she finds me

perched on driftwood log

expectant, needy, hungry

quixotic seafarer

when the world is not your oyster

try making the sea your palm

open, inviting, resting on your face

try making the sea your friend

listening in on your unspoken thoughts

today she does not offer me her hand

or her shoulder, but

large brown mounds of cud evenly spaced

along the shore

leftovers from days of storms and winds

driftwood, seaweed entangled mess

slopped onto the plate by a tired mother

for her relentless children

i am the spoilt child, scoffing sand

Sāmoan mothers feed their young solids by

chewing it for them, fingerfuls to eager mouths

not regurgitated like bird mamas, but

marionette teeth softening, tenderising

fa‘amama, feed your young

fa‘amamā, cleanse

fa‘a-Mama, like a mother

le moana e, ia e faamamaina a‘u

mother me, cleanse me, feed me, I pray

my Sāmoan mama    waves me to open wide

feeding me truth

detritus from life’s storms

i am eating the fa‘amama

of my sami soothsayer

& i taste the grit of sticks

& seaweed

to fortify my bones

eat, she says,

this organic matter of your need for signs

& wonders

when your palate needs cleansing

& your skin brightening

in a world mad with information

greenwash/ brownwash/ bluewash

don’t let your mind be tie-dyed on the tidal line

close your eyes to see

cup your ears to hear

waves of yesterday

flooding your tomorrow

hope is the thing with

sticks and stones

muck and bones

chewed      they’ll never

break you

<< >>
tolu: tagi mai le taika

I am sitting, with my older sister, against the gym studio wall playing with my Day and Night Barbie. The Jazzercise class is five rows full, synth and guitar riffs are keeping the hype as high as the leotard waistlines. Leg warmers grip pulsating calves, and sweatbands hug big bold perms. My sister and I sit so that Mum is in our line of sight, in her favoured black leotard and hot-pink tights combination. Her long plaited hair seems rebellious amongst the bushy coifs.

‘Eye of the Tiger’ plays and my sister doesn’t flinch – her Peaches and Cream Barbie is getting ready for a dinner party. The instructor is working up to a frenzy. I stand up, hold Barbie so she watches too. Leg kicks! 5, 6, 7, 8. Punches in the air in time to the hook – punch (rest) jab, jab, jab (rest) jab, jab, jab (rest) double jab, then triple-time punching upper hooks, sprinting on the spot. Eye of the tiger!

It's the final sprint and I am transfixed. The leg warmers are running hard on the spot, with big hair rebelling under the sweatbands. Hard breathing , panting, the instructor is screaming now – she’s holding out – “Here we go ladies! This is what we’re going for! Let me hear you roar!”

Barbie and I scream at the top of our lungs.

<< >>
fa: fathers

Moana Jackson has passed away and I am in mourning. I play his interviews to hear his soft voice. Who else could still the storm with their quiet voice? He reminds me of both my grandfathers. Both of my elders were softly spoken, but diametrically opposite. One’s voice was subdued by age, the other was born that way.

The latter was an orator, tulāfale. He used humour, metaphor, wisdom and parables to teach and advocate for the ‘āiga. He pursed his lips to make the loud sharp inhaled sucking sound, miki, to quiet the many kids in the fale tele. That was the loudest volume he reached. He shook his head as his wife was on yet another tirade with her salu, slapping the backsides of naughty kids. He raised nine daughters who all believed they were his favourite. Imagine, nine sisters believing themselves the sole heir to his fortunes, the prize beauty of the land.

I love my grandfathers for the way they showed me it is ok to be loud in my opinions, and vocal in my loves. Let my words and ways disinter what they will.

I love Matua Moana for the resolute mana he exalted wāhine in. In the varied lectures and workshops, I listened to him, his manner was constant – poetic wisdom cutting through the fabric of settler myths. Often chuckling, like my grandfathers did, as if there were secrets they only told favoured daughters. That wāhine voices will sail long into the vā nimonimo, their inherent fortunes of knowing intact, full in the wind.

<< >>
lima: tualima

a memory:

On a quiet weekend morning, my daughter showed me her journal. For her writing time, she copied animal facts from Wikipedia. The first was about te wheke, the octopus. Lisa Reihana’s giant Te-Wheke-A-Muturangi was alive in the Whairepo Lagoon and my daughter was eager to know more. Wikipedia facts to her were as bright as Te Wheke’s spots, far-reaching as his tentacles. Reading the facts in her handwriting had a similar effect on me. Her careful lettering was a Yayoi Kusama filter: fact and imagination mingled, bland terms became playful spots and lines; doors of possibility flung open. My daughter’s writing insisted the biology and the pūrākau of Te Wheke were equally true.


I remember an elder from our church family. She wore the tualima, which by her 80s had faded to green mottled spots and lines from her wrist to fingers. The patterns remained, washed over and over by migration and movement. My mum was close to her, and I would often sneak next to them as they were sharing giggles and stories. I watched the lo‘omatua’s tualima gesticulate as her frail voice wavered in her elegant gagana Sāmoa. Green fish dancing along the river contours of her beautiful hand, current waves flowing to the rhythm of their sonorous conversation. She received the tatau as fofō, as part of a healing ritual, and as signifier of high-ranking status as taupou. The old ways have gone, she lamented, no one received the tatau in this way any longer. I imagined the green fish flying from her hand to mine, to another, then another. I saw rapids of movement and migration, torrents of green fish under gleaming stars, leaping as if trying to fly through constellations.


The moulding of my self should have been a simple science, like making concrete: cement of a stable home, sand of present parents, gravel of Western knowledge, water of belonging in fa‘aSāmoa. But there was an added wisdom in that mixer: knowing that the women in my family line passed down; and my father’s mind planted in mine. This wisdom was stirred when I learnt about the colonisation of Moana peoples, of tangata whenua, and abroad. It helped me understand why the nation-state New Zealand was not one I identified with. I studied politics – the narrative of power – and law – the poetry of regulating human behaviour – and the rocks of revelation stacked up. By design, New Zealand society prospered at the cost of our tangata whenua ‘āiga. My resolve hardened to find a way to live in solidarity with tangata whenua, and the whenua itself.

I travelled around the motu, collecting shells and threading an ula, a garland, to remember where I had walked, where I had put my hand to the whenua to listen. For a long time, this ula was so heavy I could not speak. My imagination fell silent.

I needed to grow a backbone. My parents were flummoxed and deeply hurt, my ‘āiga bemused. I searched for a language to explain myself, why I needed an alternative pathway to the one they had paid so dearly for. Where every action in my life had been made with the backing of a small nation of ‘āiga, the journey of decolonising my life and contents was very much a solo affair.

Throughout this journey, images of backbone recurred: strength, holding beams needed to maintain a structure’s integrity. I was rebuilding my inner integrity, vertebrae by vertebrae. I learnt how to raise children, how to grow food – resonant metaphors of r/evolution. I found an ecosystem of resistance. Friends from across the motu shared their iwi stories. As a gardening friend promised – while he taught me how to mulch, compost, sow – my spine strengthened, even if my throat was closed.

Ten years passed. Despite finding a community of like-minded people, the ula tightened. Now that I had found a proverbial home, what could I offer?

One day, my view panned out as I considered the whenua I had greeted from north to south. If our many islands across Te Moana-nui-a-Kiwa are the spine of our great watery continent, then she carries me. There is no weight around my neck except my strange selfish notion that seeing wrongs meant that I needed to fix them – as if I can carry the seas to the sun. Generations of indigenous movements survive through collective strength, collective vision. I needed to reframe my idea of collective action.

I removed the ula, placed it along the shore. I saw the constellations of the many elders who spoke to the impossible. A new learning occurred as I relented to the healing hands of my elders. The healing love of my daughter. Their eyes, their knowing, their faith.

I recalled Matua Moana showing us how to reframe the building we undertake – rebuilding of hearts, minds, stories, systems – the seemingly impossible. Restoration, he said, is the ethic that guides us to the stories sown in the whenua. Therein lie the stories of imagination and fact. I put my palm to the whenua, I heard the waves of the moana tele. They said,

courage is simply the deep breath you take before a new beginning.

teu le vā, adorn the relational space –

with y/our self,

with y/our memory,

with y/our seeing,

with y/our peoples.

now, Speak.



fa‘alavelave occasions in which customary obligations arise (e.g., weddings, funerals, matai title conferral ceremony)

fono hui, meeting

gagana Sāmoa Sāmoan language

lo‘omatua elderly lady

matamuli shyness

moana tele ocean, open seas

moso‘oi ylang ylang

ofu galuega work clothes

sami sea

vaitafe smaller body of water – river, streams


Title after Lucia Berlin, Manual for Cleaning Women (New York: Picador, 2016).


Courtney Sina Meredith, “107 Years,” in Life on Volcanoes: Contemporary Essays, ed. Janet McAllister (Auckland: Beatnik Publishing, 2019), 99.

muamua: fofō

Haunani Kay Trask, “Sisters,” in Mauri Ola: Contemporary Polynesian Poems in English, ed. Albert Wendt, Reina Whaitiri and Robert Sullivan (Honolulu: University of Hawai‘I Press, c.2010), 239.

stanza 8 - direct quotation from  Kiri Piahana-Wong, “Deep Water Talk,” in Mauri Ola, 155.

stanza 9 - I have borrowed the lines “don’t we touch each other just to prove we’re still here” from Ocean Vuong, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous (Port Townsend, WA: Penguin, 2019), 44. 


Tayi Tibble, “Vampires and Werewolves,” in Poukahangatus (Wellington: Victoria University Press, 2019), 54.

lima:tualima / adornment

See Moana Jackson, “Where to Next? Decolonisation and the Stories in the Land,” in Imagining Decolonisation, ed. Rebecca Kiddle (Wellington: Bridget Williams Books, 2020), 133–155 for discussion on reframing decolonisation as a process of restoration.

Ibid, 150: “courage is simply the deep breath you take before a new beginning” is a direct quote.

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The Pantograph Punch publishes urgent and vital cultural commentary by the most exciting new voices in Aotearoa.

The Pantograph Punch publishes urgent and vital cultural commentary by the most exciting new voices in Aotearoa.

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