And the Warriors Came

A poem about systemic and institutional racism against Māori in Aotearoa by Linda Tuhiwai Smith.

He spat his words of white resentment

repeated the lies of his parents

About her unworthiness

Her people’s laziness

His people’s generosity

Her people’s ingratitude

His people’s patience

Her people’s filth

His people’s burden

And her daring to act all proud and beautiful

He raised his hands to rip her clothes

To smash her smile

Destroy her beauty

And the woman who was raped became a warrior

And the warriors came

And protected her damaged self

They smiled and talked life and business

To each other around the table,

Animated and authoritative,

Moving from social chit chat to policies and decisions

In command

In control

Until she talked

And they looked away

Swung their chairs

And drummed their pale fingers on the table

until she had finished

And then without missing a beat

They resumed where they had dropped off their previous conversation

As if she had not said a thing

It was like she had not raised her brown voice at all in that white room

But she noticed

And the successful executive became a warrior

And the warriors came

And brought her women ancestors to sing with her

He was just playing sport

Blessed with natural athleticism

This beautiful, brown boy

His instincts on fire

Reading his opponents movements

With easy confidence

He loved excelling

He felt confident

He was winning

His team was winning

He enjoyed the cheers from the sidelines

At first he thought he was mistaken

That he did not hear the n-word

Black or references

To his mother and sisters

But then he saw the red faces

Mouthing the words,

Full of hate,

He heard

And the young sportsman became a warrior

And the warriors came

And channelled his aggression

And prepared him for work

They were messing around

In the playground

Chasing each other

Down the slides and up the ladders

Through the tunnels

In and out

Daring each other to go

higher and faster,

In these early years they only knew

Whanau and other children

Who looked like them

and only little children could play

In the park

But these were big boys

Like adults, smoking and sitting

On the swings

“Fuck off you black little Māoris”

They said

“Go play on your own land”

They said

The children laughed at first,

Not understanding this funny language

And the little children became warriors

And the warriors came

And gave the children love

She came in on Monday night

with her sick baby and a toddler in his buggy

To the Accident and Emergency Department.

The waiting room was full,

Old people, Drunk people, Hurt people.

The receptionist glared at her.

But she sat waiting her turn

Her baby’s little body was hot and sweaty, he had stopped crying

Just wimpered.

And she waited

And she waited

Till her baby stopped breathing

And his body went limp.

“You should have come in earlier”

The receptionist snapped

“I couldn’t get a ride”

“That’s no excuse, you people shouldn’t have babies if you can’t look after them.”

And the young mother became a warrior.

And the warriors came

And wrapped her grief in love

And took her baby with them

He was born to lead

groomed to follow his father’s path

Surrounded by elders,

Watching, learning, waiting

But not wanting the

Responsibility to lead

One night out with his mates

Changed all that

They were having

Boisterous fun

Involving alcohol

public property somewhat damaged

Or criminally destroyed according to police

Their version of events dismissed

By police

As drunken Māori lies

Taunted and baited

All scared and bewildered

Additional charges for attempted assault on an officer and resisting arrest

First time offending

Cut no ice in this district

What started out as a night

With his mates

Was described by a judge

As the violent behaviour of an animal

and a prison term

And the young leader

Became a warrior

And the warriors came

And prepared him for war

This poem responds to the demands of the University of Waikato to deal with experiences of casual and structural racism.

Feature image: Group of young Maori on steps of Parliament. Dominion post (Newspaper): Photographic negatives and prints of the Evening Post and Dominion newspapers. Ref: EP/1972/5388/11a-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/23069211

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

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