Teine lelei


watch this Te Fiti turn to Te Ka

because I could speak in many tongues,

articulate to the moon, reverent soul in the way

that as I clench my teeth and exhale I say:

I am sick of making the ipu ki’s for the guests.

Just me the obedient daughter.

Tulou. Tulou. Tulou.

In the corner of my eye sits my brother,

watching me bend my knees to show respect,

that little piece of... I straighten

the mismatched falas and wipe the portraits on the wall,

see my reflection in the glass,

how long must I wear this mask.

The mask of teine lelei: good.



We have gotten so used to asking for forgiveness,

forgetting what apologies sound like when

they’re not coming from our own mouths.

It seems like our bodies are conditioned for labour

from all the bridges we have built getting over our invisibility.

Getting over forgotten faafetai and faamolemole

men playing hide and go sleep

men playing hopscotch and bourbon and

the critics with their ratings like we’re UberEats or something.

Or something.


Maybe our bodies are conditioned for labour

because our minds are conditioned to refill another’s cup

whilst ours is constantly empty. Nobody remembers

to ask if we have had enough to eat or drink

and despite this I am weighed down.

My hands shake. And it’s not because

of the 1321 cups of ipu ki I carry on my arms,

it’s not because they’re too heavy.

It’s just I carry with me my tongue, my goldmine,

and learning to hold the heaviness of it has me tired.


Learning to hold it has me tired.

Learning to hold it has me tired.


But what about my mum?

And her mother?

Maybe these expectations have me sinking

into myself because I don’t just carry my teine lelei.

I carry theirs. Their tatau of scars.

Rough hands that hold the same shape as mine,

yet hers feel too much like coal.


We have learnt to un shine.

Learnt to hide the gold we carry.

We have seen how the world treated West Papua.

We have seen what happens to goldmines in the Pacific.

Mum can I?


Nan can I?



Our mothers have tried to protect the treasures

wedged between our teeth

so that they aren’t stolen out of our mouths

for they know all too well how willing

the world is to take.


How willing they are to take our mothers’ teine lelei

and turn them into teine matuas.

We have been warned with every limping step

the effort it takes to lead a generation

when your backs have been used as stepping stones.

And so we are taught, to tulou, to smile,

to correctly guess how many sugars you want in your ipu ki

and so we offer up our backs for you to stand on,

only to uncrack our spine

retrain our minds

to lead

the next generation.


Because we have never been expected

to be teine lelei.

We have never been expected

to be teine matuas.

We have always just been expected

to be women.