What Shall We Build on the Ashes of a Nightmare?

Gabriella Brayne and Litia Tuiburelevu publish this essay, taken from a wider research project on Pacific Peoples and the Criminal Justice system in Aotearoa New Zealand, written with Liz Lotoa, Isabella Ieremia and Hugo Wagner-Hiliau. Their research calls for abolition and an ending to carceral capitalism, envisioning emancipatory past futures for Tangata o le Moana and the globe.

What shall we build on the ashes of a nightmare?*
I need to learn how to navigate,Read the stars, wind, and the ocean swellsLike she did.This drifting in a random sea of sites and sounds,Has been too lonely.I will pick up the piecesof my broken Gilbertese, Gather the remnants ofmy broken heart,And use them to chart my course.If I don’t find her
She’ll find me.
Teresia Teiawa, Searching for Nei nim’anoa (Mana Publications).*

With tribute to Faʻanānā Efeso Collins

This essay was originally written at the end of 2022, our hearts holding the radical urgency of abolition through the talanoa shared by our Pasifika Knowledge Holders, particularly those who have experienced carceral violence within the settler-colonising (in)justice system. Returning to this piece at the beginning of 2024, we mourn, with absolute rage, the concurrent genocides taking place in Palestine, Sudan, Congo, West Papua and all Indigenous contexts stained by settler colonialism’s bloodshed. As we bear witness to the imperial death machines' unrelenting terror (through our phone screens, no less), Robin D.G. Kelley’s question has never been so heartbreakingly and urgently felt. Renewed for these times of relentless apocalypse, this piece is dedicated to all children born into the hellfires of imperialist war and carceral violence including that which has engulfed Te Moana Nui a Kiwa.

On the question of what a Free Palestine would look and feel like, Palestinian lawyer and professor Noura Erakat answered;

“A free Palestine would look like a place that was a model for the rest of the world where the land doesn’t belong to us but we belong to the land. It looks like a place where the sky has no horizon and people can dream and have choice. We need to dream because we have been told that the world operates in a particular kind of way, and this is the only way that it can operate. I think that boundless imagination is something that’s taken away from most Palestinians who either police themselves or may not even dream big enough because they don’t want to be disappointed.”

Erakat’s words give all of our struggles new and eternal meaning, sculpting what is possible to build on the ashes of a nightmare. As devastating as this necropolitical reality is, we cannot allow violence to manifest destiny. Erakat’s hopeful vision illuminates the revolutionary potential of resisting colonisation’s capture on our imaginations. A new world is possible, if not in our lifetimes, then for the children who love life more than any of us. Sourcing unexpected wisdom from the twitterverse in this time of prolific misinformation and algorithmic violence, @ehimeora reminds us that “This life is for my ancestors younger than me.”

The ancestral insistence on survival means we owe our entire lives to solidarity and abolition, to the reordering of the cosmos for its flourishing once more. These sobering reminders implore all of us to make the most of our own lives as we carry these ancestors with us, to experience the beauty, joy, and love of life together in our struggles against violence. Two streams running alongside each other in spirit. This is why we are not freeing Palestine - but Palestine must, and will, free us. Despite the horrific silence, complicity and blatant support by several of our Pacific governments of this genocide, the revolutionary heart of our Moana knows that liberation is never found at the negotiating table.

From the river to the sea, from Te Moana Nui a Kiwa to the Mediterranean, may we wake from the chokehold of enduring US imperialism. Rise for your freedom, which is all of our freedom.

It is vital to acknowledge that the theoretical body of our writing is born mainly from the critical literature, poetry, and activism of Black revolutionary scholars.* However, paying tribute to the genealogy of the work that sparked these thoughts is insufficient. This is a necessary call to action against the ongoing violence against our Black whānau within Moana communities and beyond; recognising, for example, the colonising demarcations of Te Moana Nui a Kiwa according to anti-Blackness and legacies of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade in histories of Oceanic blackbirding. Liberatory futures are impossible without the revolutionary magic of solidarity: clearly mapping these layers of white supremacist dispossession as eternally intertwined, and shattered through the deconstruction of violence in all forms. We are constantly reminded that pathways to global liberation rest upon the abolition of anti-Blackness as the foundation of white supremacy.

On the creative energy of abolition, Robin D.G. Kelley’s ‘Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination’ provokes the inevitability of liberation not through revolutionary struggle alone - but the surrealist futures we intimately dream of and journey towards. Looking at the structures of carceral violence rooted in the broader projects of capitalism - indivisible from the exploitation of people and lands under the current structure of climate apocalypse – the struggle for a future alone often feels too overwhelming to grasp. Compelled by the forces of climate imperialism, the ocean now rises against us. In the days of writing this, our oceanic neighbour, Tuvalu, declared that it would fully digitise its lands, history, and culture - its entire existence - in facing the consumption of rising sea levels.

In Simon Kofe’s haunting words, “To remind our children and our grandchildren what our island once was.”* Where imperialism is a project of annihilation, Ruha Benjamin offers vital reflections on the inextricability of white life and black death to the United States’ prison industrial complex, crafting poetics on Black afterlife as the pathway for abolition and the regeneration of communities based on kinship. “No body ever comes back, perhaps, but spirits and ancestors might.”* Revolutionary, intergenerational kinship haunts and ruptures the fallacy of white imperial sovereignty, carrying forth not merely the possibility - but inevitability - of worlds beyond carceral landscapes. Looking at the horrific realities of dispossession which stem from the mass incarceration of exploited communities, the abolition of prisons and the entire carceral framework of colonial capitalism remains the only pathway to survival and thriving. Some might say these things are too fantastical to ever bring into being, which only illuminates the extent to which colonial capitalism continues to police our imaginations.

Our ancestors have long envisioned new worlds where we, their descendants, can thrive once more. Their visions for unfolding futures are woven into the creation of our Moana cosmologies, passed down as stories and rebirthed within the turbulence of our own timelines. Māui fishes up old-new worlds from the sea. Hina transforms not just herself but entire planes of existence to overcome paradigms of dispossession. Through these stories, we understand transformation’s inevitability as cosmology, genealogy, and the spark of life itself. Ancestral knowledge births our dreams for the (re)generations of life and stories to come.

From the dispossession of not knowing our way back to the Ocean that birthed us, Epeli Hau’ofa’s words return us home. “Oceania is vast, Oceania is expanding, Oceania is hospitable and generous, Oceania is humanity rising from the depths of brine and regions of fire deeper still, Oceania is us.”* Against the pain of structurally embedded violence, the abolition of colonial capitalism is the end of a carceral economy built upon the endless consumption of incarceration, death, and dispossession. Let the system’s demise burn from the regenerative fires of our collective dreams. On the ashes of a nightmare, we plant the first seeds of new life, born from the whakapapa of ancestral worlds. The ocean rises within us.

Abolition Geographies and Te Moana-Nui-a-Kiwa:

Emilie Rākete’s master’s thesis applies the methodology of historical materialism to the carceral landscape of settler colonial New Zealand, mapping how prisons and policing are central to the colonising economy of capitalism itself*. Carceral systems enforce the coloniser’s law and are systemic, multi-billion-dollar investments into racial violence and prolonged suffering. Intergenerational poverty and socio-economic hardship are manufactured by the same violent system that seek to incarcerate Indigenous and other exploited communities. As noted by Ruth Wilson Gilmore in her seminal text ‘Abolition Geography and the Problem of Innocence’ - the extractive economy is expanded across the land, inseparable from the territorialisation of bodies through the violence of criminalisation.* “And yet, the extraction of time from each territorial body specifically and viscerally changes lives elsewhere - partners, children, communities, movements, and the possibility of freedom.”* Given that the project of settler colonialism has enabled the expansion of New Zealand’s empire throughout the Pacific region, carceral economies have defined imperialist, carceral geographies across Te Moana-Nui-a-Kiwa.

Jared Davidson’s recent book ‘Blood and Dirt: Prison Labour and the Making of New Zealand’ explores how prison labour has built New Zealand’s Empire, stemming from the ongoing dispossession of Indigenous lands in Aotearoa.* Serco, the company contracted to run prisons in New Zealand, has also been contracted by the Australian Government to run refugee detention centres in Nauru and Manus Island.* Such examples of carceral capitalism illuminate the horrifying convergence of settler colonialism, Indigenous mass incarceration, western imperialism, and resource extraction throughout the Pacific and the refugee crisis abroad.

These interwoven histories, born into legacies of violence seen today, critically map how colonisation is a project of global dispossession. On the dispossession which ties Banaba to Aotearoa through the trans-national exploitation of phosphate mining throughout the Pacific, feeding an agricultural industry built on stolen whenua Māori, Katerina Teaiwa leaves us with this eternal question - “What does indigenous solidarity look like when commodities are formed from whenua or te aba and become part of a global food chain?*”

From the violent dislocation (and annihilation) of Indigenous people from their whenua to capitalism’s endless exploitation of finite resources, to the continued fragmentation of communities across cartographies of stolen land, to us all standing at the edge of ecological collapse as our oceans rise against us: we are acutely reminded that in our shared experiences of dispossession, our liberation is intimately woven beyond the colonial cartographies which have long fragmented us from each other. For Te Moana Nui a Kiwa; we are all connected beyond memory to the source, Hawaiki: to return is to begin as we end. Empire may try to render us broken, dispossessed, and displaced but whakapapa binds our existence before and beyond ourselves. Remembering these ancestral intimacies beyond the settler state necessitates the solidarity of Tangata Moana with Tangata Whenua in the journey set forth by Matike Mai Aotearoa, the restoration of Tino Rangatiratanga and Mana Motuhake Māori, situated within an international struggle against imperialism. For Pacific peoples, restoring Tino Rangatiratanga and Mana Motuhake should be embraced, not feared. It invites a generative space to reclaim, recover, reciprocate, and regenerate outside the colonial thought prison.

Colonising geographies speak to the all-consuming realities of carceral violence which are inherently woven into this research and yet expand beyond the scope of what has been clearly identified. The talanoa gifted from our Knowledge Holders - especially those who have been incarcerated, experienced the intergenerational pain of incarceration through family, and/or are survivors within the system - has brought into essence the compounding griefs of carceralism across space and intergenerational time. We are dealing with an interlocking system of violence and exploitation that aims to lock up our most marginalised and impoverished, repeating the cycles of intergenerational struggle that fuels the prison pipeline under colonial capitalism. Conversations around justice cannot be limited by the criminal punishment bureaucracy, aka the ‘criminal (in)justice system’ constructed by a colonising, recidivist state.

The reduction of justice to a narrative of criminalisation centres on individual wrongdoing as the substance of crime and injustice. Interpersonal harms are necessary to address through restorative frameworks of collective liberatory accountability. This is nearly impossible to achieve within the system, which is so smugly self-encircling that it has eaten its own tail.

Instruments of state violence such as prisons and policing are totally antithetical to “justice as love” at its most revolutionary core and the futures we fight for in our intergenerational longing for freedom. In ‘All About Love’, bell hooks reminds us of the mutuality of this truth, where there is no justice without love and “no love without justice.*” Moana Jackson has long spoken to the search for justness as an emancipatory, moral imperative rather than “a system exercise of ‘justice’, through imported systems.*” Abolition geography offers the spatial antithesis of carceral geographies - the total transformation of our society with love, justness, and community as its foundations, nurturing the infinite potential within us all.

“What is a country but a life sentence?” - Ocean Vuong*

The question of carceral space raised by Gilmore draws us to its indivisible relationship with time. On the economy of carceral capitalism, Gilmore writes that “what’s extracted from the extracted is the resource of life – time.*” Incarceration “opens a hole in a life, furthering, perhaps to our surprise, the annihilation of space by time.*” Sentencing through the colonising vehicle of linear time is what economises the prison system, as noted by one of our Knowledge Holders “while you’re stuck inside the world continues, buildings change, family gets older.”

The reordering of time is central to the colonial project. The commodification of land enables the imposition of Western linear frameworks of time, disconnected from the dynamic movements of the seas, skies and earth it seeks to exploit. Within a capitalist economy, we are forced to spend our commodified time. Like all commodified resources, time is violently distributed through the ordering of racial capitalism.

The very definition of racism presented by Gilmore is “the state-sanctioned or extralegal production and exploitation of group-differentiated vulnerability to premature death.*” Premature death speaks to the extreme violence of racial capitalism where racialised communities are robbed of time, spent together through living breath. From our previous readings of Pacific peoples’ statements in the Royal Commission of Inquiry into Abuse of State Care, one of the Knowledge Holders spoke to the grief of time lost to state violence. Even in reconnecting with their aiga, the wound of time lost together was sorely felt, brought into an emotional loop of trying to fix something that can never be fully grasped or fixed in its aftermath. With decolonisation resting upon the repatriation of Indigenous lands and transforming our materialist conditions, the liberation of time and space from carceral capitalism is vital to the journey ahead.

The Island Comes to You - Spiralling into Moana Futures:

As Witi Ihimaera poetically captures in ‘Navigating the Stars’, following the separation of Ranginui and Papatūānuku, Tama-nui-te-rā (the Sun) was tasked with controlling the time within a day.* Māui and his siblings endeavoured to find a way to slow the Sun. They knew that the only way to overcome Te Rā’s strength was in utilising a very special taonga - his grandmother Muri-ranga-whenua’s jawbone, an ancestral heirloom of cosmological knowledge to be passed down to Māui through whakapapa. Māui and his siblings travel towards the opening of Rarohenga; his sister Hina weaves the ropes needed to trap the Sun with a strand of her hair, giving it divine strength. After catching the Sun in his tracks, they subdue him with all their might until he concedes defeat and promises to move slowly through the sky. This pūrākau resonates with other cultural cosmologies within Te Moana-Nui-a-Kiwa where iterations of Māui also slow the sun, although through differing and sometimes contradictory interpretations.

Daniel Hernandez’s PhD thesis reinterprets this pūrākau of Māui as an overall analogy for how slowing down time as an Indigenous ritual enables us to be in better relation with one another. This message is transported to our current context of Te Ao Hurihuri, where many people are wrestling with time as ordered by capitalism. Under labour exploitation, working-class communities are not afforded the time to exist in good relation with one another, to wānanga and talanoa amongst our loved ones, let alone build community and organise against the exploitation of our current material conditions. Linearity continues to define the temporal conditions of the capitalist system, and carceral violence utilises this construction of time to its most violent extent, fragmenting families and communities for months, years, and generations. In remembering ancestral knowledge,  we are reminded that the cosmology of colonial capitalism is not inevitable. New worlds are born from the geographies of Indigenous past futures.

“There is no great distance in the reaching because we are our own tūpuna. Also, we share the dust of stars. Reaching out and drawing in one comes to know oneself, becoming whole and human.*”

This kōrero from Patricia Grace shatters the colonial construction of linear time, centring the cosmology of time as an intimate spiral; time as born from the land, where our ancestors and descendants speak through us and we through them. Whakapapa is the basis for understanding relationality throughout Te Moana-nui-a-kiwa, including the intergenerational connections that eternally bind Aotearoa and all our islands as the descendants of Oceania. The talanoa between Kassie Hartendorp, Daniel Hernandez, and Anisha Sankar in the paper ‘Whose Futures?’ meditates on the notion of past futures as central to Indigenous frameworks of time and space, where we move backwards into ever-unfolding, spiralling futures.

As Hernandez notes, “There is a different Indigenous worldview where the past is the point of reference for us today, which removes the need for a progressive linear project of mass violence that attempts to force and impose an exclusive future utopian goal.*” This cyclical understanding of time, where the past and future converge in intimate connection, echoes the dynamics of relational time in resistance to colonisation. To know where we come from is to know where we will go. Genealogy is the fabric of time, woven into our journeys of constant becoming and echoed in the diverse stories of our ancestral ecologies. Ka Mua, Ka Muri – we walk backwards into the future.

Returning to our ancestors’ cosmological knowledge gives us the hope and wisdom to rebuild past futures of Indigenous thriving. Gina Cole’s ‘Wayfinding Pasifikafuturism: An Indigenous Science Fiction Vision of the Ocean in Space’ draws upon ancestral knowledge and Pasifika science fiction in offering hope for the inevitable reclamation of Indigenous futures.* The framework of Pasifikafuturisms is offered as an oceanic, tidaletic space for collective dreaming towards liberation.

Drawing from ancestral histories of migration in sailing towards the future cosmos, Cole writes about ocean navigation using the metaphor of a waka as a needle in a compass. You do not discover or travel towards the island - the waka guides your vision, and the island comes to you. On the tribulations our ancestors faced in voyaging across Te Moana-nui-a-kiwa, towards the horizons of new yet intimately familiar worlds, the late rangatira Moana Jackson wrote “The night might sometimes be a long restlessness till dawn, but light still shone clear to the whatihua, the far universe where origins were forged, and new thoughts flourished.*”

In the ways our ancestors found those far universes across Oceanic distances, so will we. Whakapapa teaches us that every life is a chance at redemption. The stories of our ancestors rebirthed, like lovers, holding on to that distant dream (or is it a hopeful memory)? That this time might be the one to transform us, anō.

Where abolition seeks to tear down systems designed to perpetually exploit and incarcerate communities, land, and sea as indivisible from each other, we are constantly reminded that refusal is a creative project, always centred on the compassionate journey of reimagining. If not bound by the coloniser’s definitions of reality, where will the waka guide our vision next? In shattering the false ‘inevitability’ of prisons, the settler colonial state, and global capitalist exploitation - what lands (or far universes) do we dream into existence, already waiting for us on the horizons of liberated futures? Jarrett Martineau and Eric Ritskes write, “The freedom realised through flight and refusal is the freedom to imagine and create an elsewhere in the here; a present future beyond the imaginative and territorial bounds of colonialism. It is a performance of other worlds, an embodied practice of flight.*”

When we asked our Knowledge Holders what dreams they hold for themselves and their families, we are reminded again of the intimacy of these surrealist visions that shatter carceral realities, where love remains the core of justice (or justness), liberation, and life itself. To break cycles, to do right by our kids - the generations before and beyond us. To be there for one another in ways that this carceral world was never there for us. A world that gives space for breathing. The joy of Te Moana-Nui-a-Kiwa paraded through these oceanic streets, outlasting empire, our sea of islands to the world. Teresia Teaiwa’s eternal poem ‘Searching for Nei nim’anoa’ speaks to the ancestors who find us in our wayfinding for return. Piecing together the fragments we find in ourselves and each other, we chart our course to new worlds born from home. The future has already rebirthed from the past. Never alone, we stand as ancestors here and now.

* 1. Quote from Robin D.G. Kelley Freedom Dreams (Beacon Press, Boston, 2002) at 196.

* 2. Teresia Kieuea Teaiwa Searching for Nei Nim`anoa (Mana Publications, Suva, 1995).

* 3. We are greatly indebted to the work by, in no particular order, Toni Morrison, bell hooks, Angela Davis, Mariama Kaba, Ruth Wilson Gilmore, Cedric Robinson, Robert D. G. Kelley, Kwame Ture, Saidiya Hartmann, Franz Fanon and Dorothy E. Roberts.

* 4. Simon Kofe, Tuvalu Minister for Justice, Communication & Foreign Affairs, ”Tuvalu’s Address to COP27” (United Nations Climate Change Conference, 16 November 2022).

* 5. Ruha Benjamin “Black AfterLives Matter” (16 July 2018) Boston Review <>.

* 6. Epeli Hau’ofa “Our Sea of Islands” (1994) 6 The Contemporary Pacific 147 at 160.

* 7. Emilie Rākete “Beneath the prison, a faultline: A historical materialist analysis of mass incarceration in Aotearoa” (Master’s Thesis, University of Auckland, 2019).

* 8. Ruth Wilson Gilmore “Abolition Geography and the Problem of Innocence” in GT Johnson and A Lubin (eds) Futures of Black Radicalism (Verso Books, London, 2017) at 225.

* 9. Gilmore, “Abolition Geography”, at 229.

* 10. Jared Davidson ”Blood and Dirt: Prison Labour and the Making of New Zealand (manuscript summary)” (Bridget Williams Books, forthcoming).

* 11. Asylum Insight “Private Contractors at Onshore and Offshore Processing Centres” (4 April 2021) <>.

* 12. Tina Ngata and Katerina Teaiwa “Whareroa, Banaba, and the Western Sahara: The Stones and Bones of Empire” (7 December 2020) Tina Ngata < -the-stones-and-bones-of-empire/>.

* 13. bell hooks All About Love: New Visions (HarperCollins Publishers, New York, 2000) at 19.

* 14. Moana Jackson, Sina Brown-Davis and Annette Sykes ”Decarceration, Not Prison; Justness, not Justice; Constitutional Transformation, Not Treaty Settlements” (Space, Race, Bodies II workshop, 6 May 2016).

* 15. Ocean Vuong On Earth We Are Briefly Gorgeous (Penguin Press, London, 2019).

* 16. Gilmore at 227.

* 17. Gilmore at 227.

* 18. Ruth Wilson Gilmore Golden Gulag: Prisons, Surplus, Crisis, and Opposition in Globalizing California (University of California Press, Berkeley, 2007) at 247.

* 19. Witi Ihimaera Navigating the Stars (Penguin Random House, New Zealand, 2020).

* 20. Daniel Hernandez “Rootz Vaka Transits: Traversing Seas of Urban Diasporic Indigeneity by Collapsing Timeand Space with the Songs and Stories of the Kava Canoe” (PhD Thesis, The University of Auckland, 2019).

* 21. Quote sourced from Emalani Case “A Voice For Mauna Kea” (3 April 2015) He Wahī Pa’akai: A Package of Salt <>.

* 22. Daniel Hernandez, Kassie Hartendorp and Anisha Sankar “Imagining elsewhere: A critically romanticized conversation on indigenous futures” in AM Turdola and S Walsh (eds) Whose Futures? (Economic and Social Research Aotearoa, Auckland, 2020) at 18.

* 23. Gina Cole, “Wayfinding Pasifikafuturism: An Indigenous Science Fiction Vision of the Ocean in Space” (Phd Thesis, Massey University, 2020).

* 24. Moana Jackson “Where to next? Decolonisation and the stories in the land” in Imagining Decolonisation (Bridget Williams Books, Wellington, 2020) at 138-139.

* 25. Jarrett Martineau and Eric Ritskes ”Fugitive indigeneity: Reclaiming the terrain of decolonial struggle through Indigenous art” (2014) 3 Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education & Society 3 at 4.

Header image by Zoe Hikairo Morehu

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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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