Songs of the fat brown woman

for sista grace (nichols) and the fat black woman



The fat brown woman move in the breeze
under the thatch of the small small fale
braiding sinnet
weaving stories
between the leaves of the pandanus

The fat brown woman sweat in the sun
lean on a coconut palm
swaying in the coconut sun
in colourful lavalava too small for her waist

The fat brown woman in the sea
is a sight to see
diving for blue fish red fish
an occasional eel
The fat brown woman walking home from the sea
is a sight to see

Around the fat brown woman there is
always a man or two
Big or small
Smiling smiling
At the way her hip sway
At the sound her thigh make
Around the fat brown woman there is
always a fly
or two

See the fat brown woman at a fa’alavelave
Directing the men the women
A fine mat here
A pig there
In her fat brown woman voice
in her fat brown woman style
gentle but firm
is the fat brown woman

When the fat brown woman hops on the bus the girls
and boys whisper
and men and women whisper
and children and cat whisper whisper
and pigs too sometimes
watch her sway
sway sway
and her arms moving like dat
and a shaking like dat
is her tummy too

they make room right behind the skinny
bus driver who gives her a big fat wink
the fat brown woman takes out a bright red
hanky wipes the sweat off her brow
pats her cheek
adjusts her dress/her bra/
her hip
chase away the flies
give the bus driver a mean look
Is going be a long way to market

So you can look all you want
And you can watch all you want
And you can stare all you want
But the fat brown woman will keep
swaying her hip
Keep swaying her hip
All the way to town


The fat brown woman watches miss universe on tee vee

What do you say is
going through the mind of the fat brown woman
watching miss universe the most beautiful woman in the world?
a aerobic instructa
wants to be a air hostess
a brain surgeon
is her dream?
The fat brown woman add more coconut cream to the saka
and adjust her lavalava
call out to her big sista
e! we need to fix dat damn scale!


The fat brown woman’s fat brown sista

Sits in the cool
of an air-conditioned room
directing an organisation
managing an institution
rewriting her constitution


Warning about the fat brown woman

The fat brown woman is quiet as you know
Doesn’t say a word
An occasional laugh
She does not gossip
She does not lie
Will tell you straight away
Whether you sleeping with a fly
but piss the fat brown woman off and you see eyes
you never seen before
and a mouth you
never heard before
And if I was you I’d stay clear out of the way
Of the fat brown woman
When she’s mad
When she’s pissed
I’d stay clear out of the way
If I was you
I’d stay clear out of the way
Of whereva she going sit

A last note on the fat brown woman and shoes

No shoe fits the foot of the fat brown woman
No high heel
No low heel
No prince
No king
Can contain
Confine the foot of the fat brown woman
Because the feet of the fat brown woman
Are grounded nicely to the bellies of
Her Mamas
The fat blue Pacific
The fat brown Earth
Thank you very much

Sia Figiel is. A mother. A daughter. A sister. An aunty. A cousin. A teacher. A painter. A novelist. A poet. But in her waking hours she works as the Literature and Language Arts Specialist for the Pacific Islands Centre for Educational Development in Pago Pago, American Samoa.

She won the Commonwealth Writer’s Prize Best First Book Award for the South East Asia-South Pacific region with her debut novel where we once belonged – ‘an extended poem’, she says. She has written two other novels:The Girl in the Moon Circle and They Who Do Not Grieve, a prose poetry collection, To A Young Artist in Contemplation, and a CD recording of performance poems with Teresia Teaiwa – TERENESIA.

Sia Figiel’s work has taken her to Paris, Berlin, Barcelona, New York, Honolulu, South America and she is the first Pacific Islander to read at the Shakespeare Globe Theatre, London. Her novels have been translated into Portugese, Turkish, Catalan, French, Spanish, German and Dutch.

Figiel comments: ‘ “Songs of the fat brown woman” was inspired by one of my trips to London. I was in a shoe store, surrounded by all these African, Caribbean women. Of course we were all there because we had size 12 feet and we were looking for shoes. London (and most of the Western AND Eastern world for that matter) can be very unforgiving to women with big feet. Anyways, I spotted a size 13 and was about to dive for it when another brown hand grabbed it right before me. I looked up to confront the hand and she looked at me with a big smile and said: “Malo e lelei, tahine Hamoa.” And that’s how I met my Tongan friend Mavis!

‘I was further inspired to write “Songs” after I met and had lunch with Grace Nichols at my then apartment in Berlin, a decade ago. Nichols is a former winner of the Commonwealth Prize for Poetry and is of course famous for writing the Poems of the Fat Black Woman BUT the difference is, she’s a very skinny woman! I said to myself, someone with authority on fat has to be the one to write the songs of the fat brown woman! And the rest, of course, is history. Thank you.’

Poem source details >



Auckland University Press
New Zealand Book Council Writer File