'How to Make a Ngatu', by Winnie Dunn

The Tou’a

The virgin with long hair
gives the kava
to the worms
wriggling in a circle
with wide-open mouths
surrounding her.

She no longer wants them to eat dirt.

They drink.
The worms grow into the men of Tonga,
brown as fonua.

The men drag her from Pulotu – the Underworld.

God and Tonga is my Heritage

I dangle on the tamanu
upside down
my fihi hair
reaching for the ocean
the spirits
eat me.

The faifekau
from the land
of a hundred chords
my grandfather
sacrifices me         (tata).

Upside down I fall
as his puaka palms         slam!
The Holy Bible –
my branch is broken.

I have been dragged from Pulotu.
My dirt is raised to God.

I am
with Lose, Lose, Lose
in my mouth
royal red roses

Queen Salote herself but       hung

My body is snapped
with a torn ta’ovala
around my waist
and neck.

Hiapo Bark

My kui fefine beats the hiapo bark to submission
turning it into paper

My kui fefine beats the kaka’s red roots to submission
turning it into ink

To make a ngatu
my nana learns to write her own oral tradition
which is her saying that the truth
will always show its face
with the wrinkles of fakamalu o Katea

Nana only uses her wrinkles for the story of Kate
a woman who gave illegitimate birth
whilst climbing up the steep hills of ‘Eua
she spreads this out over the front lawn of
our housing commission in Liverpool

My grandmother paints the cheek of truth
on the church community board
Rape! Rape! Rape! In the house of Fe’ofa’aki!
the priest removes her message
because it is not Holy
she writes it again

My aunty Samena with her black hair
cut to her neck gives birth to a girl
my nana refuses to touch it
the child’s father is Samuela Holani
who was once my aunty Salato’s husband

Katea Katea Katea Ha’u
my cousin waddles in a nappy
to the front of our home
Nana sits us on her lap and says
Fai’aki e ‘ilo ‘oua ‘e fai’aki e fanongo
Do it by knowing not by hearing

Nana covers our hands with kaka


Aue aue Malapo I tell you

I stop washing the dishes
bubbles of soap
running down my hands
in the elephant grey kitchen
where my pa and my aunties and nana
jandal talk

My pa is a man made of leather
folded, weathered, and bendable
into a speaking breathing taro
enough to feed the plenty
gulping cheap red wine.

I tell you I learn how
my brother no good too shy
he no learn the English
But I know English
I no shy I no care
I see the sign
I just talk it.

Only his hands, hard as red clay
give me true meaning
as they sprout everywhere
amongst the silver clanking of cutlery
like the blow holes called whale rocks
in a Tongan village
I have forgotten the name of.

I learn him
palangi man
when I make Date Line hotel in Tonga
I make only 6 dolla a week
no good no good.

I then move to New Zealand.
Make window and farm – real man.
I would sell mangoes, bananas and taro leaves
and maybe make 100 dolla a month
better better.

How does a man have time
to speak this much?
And so fast that it hurts my eyes
just to listen.
It must be an Islander thing.

Maybe men
can paint patterns of conversation too.
He goes on about me learning Tongan
like the kaka ink of the ngatu
so red and brown and permanent.
Maybe that ink
cannot be just for women.

I don’t know why my brother is shy
if he no shy
just speak
he learn.

This piece appears in The Lifted Brow #34. Get your copy here.

Winnie Dunn is a Tongan writer from Mount Druitt. She is a manager and editor at Sweatshop.