Tayi Tibble

Identity Politics

I buy a Mana Party T-shirt from AliExpress.
$9.99 free shipping via standard post.
Estimated arrival 14–31 working days.
Tracking unavailable via DSL. Asian size XXL.
I wear it as a dress with thigh-high vinyl boots
and fishnets. I post a picture to Instagram.
Am I navigating correctly? Tell me,
which stars were my ancestors looking at?
And which ones burnt the black of searching irises
and reflected something genuine back? I look to
Rihanna and Kim Kardashian shimmering in
Swarovski crystals. Make my eyes glow with seeing.
I am inhaling, long white clouds and I see
rivers of milk running toward orange oceans of
sunlit honey. Tell me, am I navigating correctly?
I want to spend my money on something bougie,
like custom-made pounamu hoop earrings. I want to
make them myself but my line doesn’t trace back
to the beauties in the south making amulets
with elegant fingers. I go back into blackness,
I go back and fill in the gaps, searching through archives
of advertisements: Welcome to the Wonderland
of the South Pacific. Tiki bars, traffic-light cocktails &
paper umbrellas. Tell me, am I navigating correctly?
Steering through the storm drunk & wet-faced
waking up to the taste of hangover, a dry mouth, a strange bed,
shirt above my head is the flag fluttering over everything.
What were we celebrating? The 6th of February is the anniversary
of the greatest failed marriage this nation has ever seen.
In America, couples have divorce parties. We always arrive
fashionably late. Tell me, am I navigating correctly? The sea
our ancestors traversed stretches out farther than the stars.


Tayi Tibble (photo credit: Ebony Lamb)

Photo by Ebony Lamb

Tayi Tibble (Te Whānau ā Apanui/Ngāti Porou) was born in 1995 and lives in Wellington. In 2017 she completed a Masters in Creative Writing from the International Institute of Modern Letters, Victoria University of Wellington, where she was the recipient of the Adam Foundation Prize. Poūkahangatus is her first book.

Tibble comments: ‘You can’t actually get Mana Party T-Shirts on Aliexpress but I guess what I was trying to explore was the performative nature of identity. Ru Paul says You are born naked and the rest is drag and I think that’s beautiful . . . lol. It is very much the drag queen in me but I genuinely think that the way we dress, and what we adorn ourselves with, is much more than just shallow superficial fluff but actually so important to our sense of selves, our identities and how we reclaim them and wear them with pride. It’s modern adornment, and adornment has been an integral of indigenous cultures for eons, so while I may not have access to Huia feathers or a gorgeous inheritance of family pounamu (chur colonialism) I do have access to the internet.

So this poem was really born from the intersection of my identities as a wahine Māori x urban millennial brat, which is why this poem talks about the stars as guides; traditionally for navigation, as the spirits of my tipuna, and as idols of celebrity like RiRi and Kim K for example. Of course there is always some colonial guilt and confusion as to how these different interests and identities can co-exist. Sometimes I’ll get overwhelming moral dread for two seconds where I’m like, how do I, as a Māori who understands the devastating effects that colonisation, globalisation and capitalism had on our people, rectify that with my obsession with bougie, flashy, material, popular culture? Then I bought a $325 pink plastic Rangi Kipa hook and that one piece of jewellery undid years of identity related unrest and I was finally at peace and perfectly balanced, which was very nice for me as a Libra.

However I did think it was important for some of this tension and confusion to be present in the poem, which is why the question Am I navigating correctly?” is repeated throughout the piece. I just think it’s good in this oversaturated social media world to check in with yourself every now and then, and to check in with the ancestors and the communities that you serve to make sure you are doing right by them. To be honest, this poem and its meaning to me constantly shifts and grows with me, and right now I am thinking that “Am I navigating correctly?” is less a confession of doubt, and more reaffirming. I kind of think of this poem as my prayer poem; paying respect to my ancestors who got me here but also asking them to trust me and my ability to navigate the metaphorical oceans I am faced with, with the knowledge, humility and mana that I learnt from them. It’s kind of like, oh, my waka might be garishly hot pink with ambient neon lighting but it’s still heading in the right direction lol.’

​Poem source details >

Tayi’s Victoria University Press author page