Inside the Auckland Town Hall during the Dawn Raids apology on August 1. (Photo: RNZ / Marika Khabazi)

In celebration of National Poetry Day next week (August 27), here’s a poem on the Dawn Raids apology from Tusiata Avia, Arts Foundation laureate and the winner of this year’s poetry award at the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards for The Savage Coloniser Book.




The Princess of Tonga speaks to Jacinda and makes us cry

HRH Princess Mele Siu’ilikutapu Kalaniuvalu Fotofili tells Jacinda why we are crying

MP Carmel Sepuloni blots her eyes/ and we unleash our tears like police dogs at dawn/ on our father/ his bare feet/ his hands cuffed behind his back/ his pyjamaed legs scrambling/ into the back of the police van/ while his babies scream.

Some of us hold our tears back/ like our mother telling us/ Be quiet/ quiet/ in the dark/ dark/ hiding places of Auckland and Wellington and Christchurch and Dunedin. 

I accept your apology/ Her Royal Highness says/ and then lowers her silver head and chuckles/ HOWEVER . . .

The Vā

The Vā

The Vā

The Vā between the Princess of Tonga/ and the Prime Minister of New Zealand/ is the space across the stage at the Auckland Town Hall/ and the number of Tongan overstayers still hiding in 2021.


Polynesian Panther, Alec Toleafoa raises his fist

Alec greets the government. It is rare, very rare

usually he is 16 and 17/ usually he is moe pi/ usually he is a bunch of upstarts/ usually he is educate to liberate/ usually he is a raised fist/ a loud-hailer/ the running of panther paws/ away from an MP’s house at dawn/ before the pigs arrive.

He raises his fist and his cry 

What do we need?


When do we need it?



MP David Seymour looks confused

David and the red-faced man sitting next to him are wondering

Wondering wondering

When to stand and when to sit?/ What all the words are?/ What all the words are?/ Why the women with the red feathers and mirrors on their heads are walking backwards like that?/ Why the Minister of Pacific Peoples has taken his shirt off and why is he holding a fly whisk?/ Where the flies are coming from?/ And where the flies are going?/ Who the men at the feet of that princess are?/ Why those aggressive men are holding spears?/ And why have they painted their faces black?/ (Surely that’s not very PC these days?)

David looks around at the unending sea of brown.


Reverend Tevita Finau delivers his sermon 

Our reading today is from the Book of Dawn Raids, chapter one, verse one to five.

“And in those days, the police of the Pharaoh Muldoon, drove through the highways and byways of the land called Ponsonby and Grey Lynn where lived the sons and daughters of the Great Pacific Ocean. And the police of the Pharaoh did play recordings of dogs barking to send fear into the hearts of all those who had ears. And out of the houses fled the overstayers. The sons and daughters of the Great Pacific Ocean flew out of their houses and over the fences away from captivity. But, alas, the police of the Pharoah Muldoon were wicked and had tricked them and lay waiting for them with large and hungry dogs who did indeed eat them.”

Let us pray,

Dogs are used for chasing pigs 

Dogs are used to capture swine

Dogs are not for the royal houses of

Tacombau of Fiji

Malietoa and Mata’afa of Sāmoa

Pomare of Rarotonga

Tupou of Tonga

And King Kamehameha of Hawaii.

Allow us to pass freely without hindrance

We are not passing through like American tourists

We are not leaving and we are tired tired of waiting waiting in the dark.

We await you Prime Minister Ardern to grant our people visas

In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost




Ifoga: Jacinda is covered by the ceremonial fine mat

She is in white

She sits on a chair

The ie toga is spread over her head

The ie toga is spread over her body.

This is something delicate, gentle, bridal

This is not prostration

This is not cross legged on the floor

This is not more than a minute

But it is better than Helen Clark did in 2002.

The mat is lifted 

and the sins of the forefathers call

our pearls who were cast before dogs call 

the tears of our princess call

This is just the beginning

This is just the beginning.


Tusiata Avia (Sāmoan-Pālagi) is a poet, performer, and children’s book writer. She is the author of four critically acclaimed poetry books: Fale Aitu/Spirit House, Bloodclot, Wild Dogs Under My Skirt, and The Savage Coloniser Book, which won the Peter Biggs Award for Poetry at the 2021 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards. 

Tusiata is a 2020 Arts Foundation Laureate. She has held a number of residencies including the Fulbright Pacific Writer’s Fellowship at University of Hawai‘i, and the Ursula Bethel Writer in Residence at University of Canterbury. She was also the 2013 recipient of the Janet Frame Literary Trust Award. 

Covid allowing, Tusiata will appear at WORD festival in Christchurch on August 28 as part of Phantom National Poetry Day events

© E-Tangata, 2021

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