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  • Writer's pictureTE RĀKAU

Facing the light with forgiveness and healing

Updated: May 20

1 November 2023 | Saul Kolio

Hear from cast member Saul Kolio about his journey and his thoughts on a new digital theatre project by Te Rākau.


Porirua local Saul Kolio (Ngāti Hāmoa) is taking parts of his own story to the screen for a digital theatre project about a whānau struggling to recover from the shadow of ngau whiore (sexual abuse) and whakamomori (suicide).

Here, Saul reflects on his journey and what he hopes audiences can take away from experiences like the one Te Rākau has developed.

You can book tickets to see Saul in the film premiere of The Swing at Circa Theatre this November.

A photo of a man with his hands pressed over his mouth
Saul plays the role of Mike, a policeman in a small town who has to come to terms with traumatic events in his and his friends' childhood.

At 46-years-old, I look back on my life and see a lot of things that shouldn’t have happened the way they did.

My mum was a lovely, beautiful lady, and growing up we were close. But she and my stepdad had an unhealthy relationship – I tell people they were like a cold tap and a hot tap.

I ran away from home when I was very young and didn’t go back until I was 20. I was beaten physically and mentally. There was sexual abuse too. I’ll never forget about it, or how people told me it was my fault, but I have learned to forgive.

For a long time drugs and alcohol were my painkillers. I thought about suicide, and was on a bad path. I never identified as Sāmoan growing up because I’d had the language and culture beaten into me. I’d been in just about every gang, even White Power. I didn’t know who I was or what it felt like to belong, to not be alone – it didn’t matter if I was alive or not.

When I was in that world, even when I had a family of my own, I didn’t realise I was lashing out. I was hitting my kids and hitting my partner. I wasn’t present, I had no way of showing emotions that weren’t anger.

In my family we didn’t talk about this stuff at all. Like a lot of Pacific families, we try and deal with it in our own bubble because we don’t want anyone outside to know. It brings embarrassment, shame, guilt. We want to be seen and portrayed as a good community, a respectful culture.

But this abuse is happening – in my family, and in lots of others. It’s a ripple effect: we pass our pain down to our children. Four years ago, my son came to me and told me he wanted to kill himself. My family was telling me they’d had enough of my actions, and deep down I wanted to make a change.

Not long after, my partner introduced me to Jim Moriarty and Helen Pearse-Otene at Te Rākau Theatre, and I enrolled in their anger management programme. Since then, I’ve been working with Jim and Helen on a Theatre Marae production called The Swing. It was created with people who have experienced family violence to bring these issues into the light.

There hasn’t been a single rehearsal where I haven’t dropped tears. It’s real. The work we do makes a space where whānau can get answers – not just for themselves, but for others too. It’s about us as survivors, but it also acknowledges the hurt and healing of perpetrators too.

I truly believe no one is born wanting to hurt others. The facts tell me what happened in my family probably happened to the generation before me. My journey has been about learning to break the chain, to forgive, to heal.

The difference in our home life gives me goosebumps. It makes me cry. My little girls come outside the gate to greet me when I get home after work. Just a few years ago they were scared of me: they’d stay in their bedrooms, they couldn’t wait for me to get out of the house.

Those tough thoughts still come up. I call it a viper – it’s there, sitting on my shoulder every morning I wake up. But I know how to manage it now. The things I tried to run from, I can acknowledge and embrace.

Te Rākau has shown me how to bring my walls down and be gentle. I’ve learned you can take your experiences and your mamae, and you can turn it into something positive.

I would be so grateful if audiences came to bring this korero into the light with us, because The Swing has an important message for us all. It’s not just the Police or Oranga Tamariki who are first responders: it’s the families too.

We need to front up to the truth of what’s happening in our families. If we stay locked in our shame, we can’t move forward.

Saul appeared on screen in November when Te Rākau presented the film premiere of The Swing at Circa Theatre. Find out more below.

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