The Exorcism: Daughter of Gloriavale

ABOVE: Lilia’s baptism by Shepherd Fervent Stedfast (right) and Shepherd Howard Temple (left).

When I left Gloriavale as a teen, I had no clue about the world. Part of me was scared because I thought, What the hell do I do now? Another part of me was excited because I thought, Holy shit! I can do anything or be anyone that I want to be.

My naivety served me well for the first two years because I didn’t realise people had a negative perception of Gloriavale. Thus I had no hangups telling people I grew up there.

But after a few strange looks and comments I started to realise I was different to others. I’d been thrown into a world where I didn’t fit in because of my background. I was odd.

ABOVE: Lilia Tarawa as a teen living in the Gloriavale Christian Community

So I shut my mouth and started to tell only the parts of my story I thought people would like, ‘I grew up on the West Coast. I grew up on a farm. I know how to play five musical instruments. I can knit, sew, spin and cook.’

I thought, If I tell people the pretty parts about my life they won’t look at me strange. And it worked.

But I’d fallen victim to my own self-protection mechanisms because now I couldn’t speak openly with my friends about the pain, hurt, struggles, what I loved and what I hated about Gloriavale. It cut deep when people mocked or bad-mouthed the cult, and it was hard to not take it as a personal insult. I shut people out, and I’d never felt so fucking lonely.

So I went looking for love in the arms of men, but it was never fulfilling because I expected them to fill all my needs—certainty, significance, love, acceptance, belonging, adventure, physical pleasure—and they inevitably fell short of my inflated expectations.

ABOVE: Lilia Tarawa (26 y) in 2017 Maori TV in Auckland, New Zealand to promote her memoir, Daughter of Gloriavale

By this time I’d learned to dress and behave in a manner acceptable to Western culture, but still didn’t feel like I fit it. The irony was I continued to live in suppression, even on the outside of Gloriavale, because I was now victim to a Western culture that battered self-image with unrealistic expectations.

So I thought, Well I’ve left Gloriavale, but have I really left? The people out here think they are so much better than Gloriavale. They mock Gloriavale as ‘a funny farm’, yet believe it’s acceptable for a man to undergo a gender change if he wants to be a female. What is weird and what is not? If we are all products of our environment then we’re all indoctrinated with our own version of ‘normal’. Is hate speech acceptable in any instance? What if we loved each other regardless of  race, religion, ethnic origin, sexual orientation, disability, or gender? Would the world be a better place?

Plus in Gloriavale I’d been forced to wear a long dress and headscarf, submit my will to the church leaders and live a quiet life of domestic servitude. Now outside the cult I wore uncomfortable, tight-fitting clothes and six-inch heels to show off my body, plastered paint on my face each day which ruined the health of my skin and straightened my hair with hot irons because my natural hair wasn’t pretty enough.

I thought, What’s worse? In both worlds it’s easy to find ways to hate myself.

Then I was punched in the gut by a nervous breakdown that pushed me to the edge of sanity. My body was warning me to expunge the bad energy I was harbouring. My mental state became so bad I took time off work to lie curled at the end of my bed hyperventilating. Panic attacks hit hard and fast.

One day I looked in the mirror at the bloody mess I’d become—smeared mascara, puffy eyes, thin and drawn—and realised, This is not who I am.

Maybe I can extract my demons using words, I thought. So I cleaned myself up, sat at my computer and started to write. The muddle of words that came out was pretty messed up. Here’s a sentence from the first segment I ever wrote about Gloriavale which I titled ‘Messy Business’.

The heart is afraid. It’s been here before and the night is darker than ever. Blood stains the floor and the rooms are filled with sightless eyes.

I stared at the screen and thought, Okay I’m obviously crazy. But there was a strange sense of peace. Some of the madness that had been bashing around in my skull had calmed. The demons had been muzzled.

I started reading a book by self-help guru Tony Robbins titled, Awaken the Giant Within : How to Take Immediate Control of Your Mental, Emotional, Physical and Financial Destiny! Following his strategies I set goals for my life in an attempt to answer the questions bugging me. Who am I? What do I want? What is my purpose?

ABOVE: THEEDGE.CO.NZ: Ex-Glorivale member Lilia talks with JDR about how she escaped. CLICK to watch interview.

One of the goals I jotted was ‘Write a book’.  I also wrote…

  • Free someone living under a culture of suppression
  • Speak for those who do not have a voice
  • Publish literature on human rights
  • Visit Gloriavale “home”
  • Become a recognised role model for women

I had no clue how any of this would come to pass.

Then I got an email from Jenny Hellen, a publisher with Allen & Unwin. Her words read, ‘All of these documentaries about Gloriavale tell one side of the story, but I think people would very much like to know the wider story as well.’

I agreed, but more than that I was desperate to be accepted for who I was, not who I was expected to be. Maybe if I share my story people will understand and accept me, I thought.

Daughter of Gloriavale: My Life in a Religious Cult

Lilia’s book Daughter of Gloriavale: My Life in a Religious Cult is available to purchase on MightyApe

So in August 2016 I started writing a memoir Daughter of Gloriavale: My Life in a Religious Cult. It was like undergoing open-heart surgery with no anesthesia. Agony. But with every stroke of the keys a piece of my heart stitched itself back together. Daughter of Gloriavale published in August 2017 just 12 months later.

After a whirlwind of media interviews I landed back in my hometown Christchurch with a sense of peace and purpose I’d never experienced. During launch, Daughter of Gloriavale had achieved number 3 of ALL books in NZ, it was the second highest-selling NZ published book, and we were already in our second reprint.

But the best part was the demons in my head had silenced. Some of them had even left. And I thought, That’s what an exorcism is right?

So I googled exorcism: 1) drive out or attempt to drive out (a supposed evil spirit) from a person or place. 2) completely remove (something unpleasant) from one’s mind or memory.

When I understood the definition of exorcism I realised what Daughter of Gloriavale had done for me. It had exorcised my demons. It had freed me.


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Photo Credit: Kerry Ferigo

The irony was I continued to live in suppression, even on the outside of Gloriavale, because I was now victim to a Western culture that battered self-image with unrealistic expectations. Click To Tweet I thought, If I tell people the pretty parts about my life they won't look at me strange Click To Tweet

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1 Response

  1. Melissa Waldren says:

    I’m reading Daughter of Gloriavale at the moment, and finding it so fascinating. I lived in Westport for 12 years and had never herd of Gloriavale until the Sunday show. I always thought the pilots from Air West Coast were hot and thought how cool it would be to change them ? so sad!! Every time I went to Greymouth from then I hoped that I would spot some Gloriavale residents I just found it sooooo interesting. One time when in was in Grey I seen an older lady with a line of children behind her all holding a soft serve from Maccas. I will always remember this beautiful little boy with white hair look at me, I gave him a big smile to try and crack him but no go. He would be about 18-20 now and I have often thought about him. Strangely enough. I think what you have done Lilia is amazing, brave, crazy cool! Hope you are being kind to yourself, and can’t wait till the kids are in bed so I can get back to my book! Nga mihi Melissa x

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