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Mahi Tuarua


The participants are deep in their work. Editing, refining, sharpening up whatever is left to do on their films. Sitting in on these break out rooms while several black screens and muted mics stared back at me, had me thinking a lot about work.


‘Mahi’ in Te Reo Māori is often translated to ‘work’ in English. We use it when talking about everyday 9:00-5:00 jobs, personal and community responsibilities, and, in general, things that we actively do in life. I often utilize ‘mahi’ when talking about things that the Euro Western worldview doesn’t consider work or actual labor in any way, i.e., art-making, decolonizing, learning, maintaining relations, and existing. All of these are connected as well as distinct things; they are all also, definitely at one point or another, very exhausting feats that we manage to carry out anyways. We don’t all do every single one at the same time. Most times we only have energy to do a few. Existing is sometimes the only one we can manage for a day or a sequence of days. The point is: all of these are work. All of these are mahi. This is how I view them, anyway.


I’m thinking about mahi this week and how these are all categories that fit under that umbrella because the weight of this world seems to be getting heavier by the day. By the hour. By the minute. I don’t have to spell it out for you; anyone who pays attention knows what’s going on in the way of police/racial/gendered violence and the continued insistence on the part of the colonizing body to ignore it. Push it aside. Treat every single one as an isolated incident as opposed to a necessary function that keeps the system well-oiled. It’s always been maddening for those who have stayed on top of it but there is something so much more intense about constantly receiving this news in the middle of a year long pandemic. Many people don’t have the option to run away anymore. Don’t have the excuses we once did. For those of us with the privilege of being able to sit inside during this time, we don’t get to distract anymore. Which makes things such as art making, decolonizing, learning, maintaining relations, and existing that much more close to home, intimate, and hard to miss now. With the time we have in between Zoom meetings, distanced learning breaks, and Telehealth waiting rooms, we now get thinking time. Brewing time. Changing time. We are beginning to engage in those different types of mahi.


I suppose I write all this to say that we are still moving. Even when we don’t feel like it. That when the world as we know it has stopped in some ways (physically out in the world vs sitting at our $15 fold out table on a work call at home) but has persisted in many others (racism, sexism, anti-blackness, land theft, ableism, homophobia, transphobia, every other American-as-apple-pie thing), that doesn’t mean we are not 1.) going anywhere and 2.) going anywhere better. Even when we are faced with all we have had to deal with and continue to deal with, we are still making things happen. Mentally, physically, spiritually, emotionally, we are shifting, upgrading, and creating muliwai between worlds and perspectives. We are questioning, wondering, and deciding on the things that matter most and realizing that the work we do apart from the 9:00-5:00’s is world changing. Is life-building. Is what will contribute to the future we are all slowly helping to transpire with each new realization, piece of art, refusal, communication, and determination to get up in the morning even when that feels like the hardest thing.


That this is truly the mahi. That we are doing it. We are never stopping. And we will keep doing it till we are standing in those decolonized futures we have carved out together.

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