I grew up in a cult. It was heaven -- and hell. | Lilia Tarawa | TEDxChristchurch

Video Statistics and Information

Captions Word Cloud
Translator: Thร nh H. Chรขu Reviewer: Peter van de Ven I grew up in a valley on the West coast of New Zealand's South Island. Imagine the wildest, most beautiful valley you've ever seen. Lush bush that merges from foothills into fertile farmland, cut through by pristine rivers that snake down from the alps above. And a lake that sparkles like polished glass while the rainbows write color in the sky. I grew up in the Gloriavale Christian Community. Five hundred men, women, and children living together and following the doctrines of Jesus Christ. My grandfather was my hero because he brought us to this land and founded the community I loved. Purchasing the two farms on either side of the river was a smart move for our group. We'd migrated from the East coast and needed livelihood. I arrived at six weeks old, strapped on my papa's back to what would be home for the first eighteen years of my life. My cousins and childhood friends were like brothers and sisters to me. We did everything together. Camping was one of our favorite pastimes. We snuggled in sleeping bags underneath the stars and cooked damper on campfire ashes. Now, earlier today we were asked to recall our happiest childhood memory. My favorite is celebration day. Imagine the coolest party you ever attended as a child. My cousins, my friends, and I would gorge ourselves on pink candy floss and drink way too much sugary soda. There were clowns on stilts, back-rides behind tractors, three-legged races, and a plane that flew over to drop lollies from the sky. The men built us a hydro slide and a flying fox. And on these days, my granddad would decree a day off work for the entire community. So the women stopped working in the kitchen, and the men came, enough to form a festival. And it was all free. We didn't pay for it, because we didn't earn wages. We didn't work for money, we worked for the lifestyle and for each other. The money we made in our businesses was kept in a communal bank account. That bank account built the hostels we lived in, put clothes on our back, and food in our mouths. And I knew every single person in my community personally. Not only did I know them, but I knew their husband, their wife, their children and their grandchildren. We lived in communal hostels. We worked together. We went to school together. We prayed together. I was constantly surrounded by the people I loved the most. And at night, I'd skip a couple of meters to my cousin's room to socialize or play a deck of cards. I loved working with the other girls in the women's realm. I loved learning the sew, knit, spin, and cook. Music was one of my favorite hobbies. We were taught music in the first year of school, so by the time I was 17, I was competent on five musical instruments. Think for a moment about a time you achieved something really important. Remember how it felt. Remember how proud you were in the moment. That probably felt similar to the day I received my first school report. It was the most exciting day of my life as a six-year-old. I'd scored excellent grades and even better personal comments from my school teacher. So you can imagine my excitement when my grandfather took the school report and read it to the 500 members of my community at dinner. And then he said, "We don't want women like you." My stomach dropped. I turned bright red. There was air being sucked in my nostrils, but I couldn't breathe. See, my school teacher had written in my report a sentence that read, "Lilia demonstrates leadership skills, which could be useful for when she's older." And my grandfather humiliated me for hours. And this would become a common theme throughout my life. Afterward, I left the dinning room a changed six-year-old girl. And what changed was my belief I was worth anything more than what he sees I was. And as a young girl, I spent the majority of my time with womenfolk. And because we home-birthed big families, the sight of a pregnant belly made me feel at home. My mum grew up with 15 brothers and sisters. I have nine siblings. I was seven years old when I saw a newborn baby for the first time. I took a scissors with both hands and snipped the umbilical cord. My cousin was born blue because the cord was strangling him. So after saving him, the midwife did a trauma assessment with me because I was 10 years old at the time. And I held my aunt's hand when her next girl was delivered on a mattress in the back of a van, on the way to the nearest hospital. Dad was the active manager for one of the businesses. My mum was the leader of all the women and ran the entire domestic realm of Gloriavale. I wanted to be just like her when I grew up. Her job was demanding and because Dad was often travelling for business, she needed help raising the children. So I changed dirty nappies, potty-trained, climbed out of bed in the middle of the night to rock them back to sleep, cleaned up spew, knitted them warm clothes, and helped wean them off breast milk. I couldn't wait to grow up and marry a man and have his babies. My girl cousin and I talked about it a lot, so it was a really exciting day for me when I turned twelve and got my period. Because I could finally fulfill my purpose in life. And by the time I was 14, I knew who I wanted to fulfill that purpose with. His name was Willing. It would be a worthy marriage. I was the granddaughter of the church founder, and he was the son of Fervent, one of the church leaders. And one day I was sitting in class, when Fervent bowled in the door, dragging Willing by the shoulder. Willing had been disobedient. I don't remember what he'd done, it could have been that he combed his hair the wrong way, spoke back to his father, listened to music he wasn't allowed to listen to, or read a book he wasn't allowed to read. That didn't matter. The punishment was the same. Willing was ordered to bend over and pull down his pants. And my stomach rolled when Fervent pulled out the leather belt. We were then told to watch as Fervent beat Willing with it, and I refused to look; instead, I stared down at my desk and whispered, "Please God, make it stop." Please make it stop. In that moment, my respect for Fervent's leadership imploded. I knew what he was doing was wrong. They taught us so much about the love of God that as I watched Fervent beat his son, I thought that's not love. And it wasn't love even though after Fervent had finished beating his son, he hugged him and told him he loved him. That's not love. I became suspicious of the laws we were being taught. "Spare the rod, spoil the child," the leaders said. My blood boiled when one wife brought her child to me and showed me the blue welt on the toddler's back. I gritted my teeth, "How can anyone call themselves a Christian and treat a child that way?" "How can any parent treat a child that way?" My friend Jubilant wasn't spoiled. He was born into one of the least privileged families in our society with no connection to leadership circles. He was the jokester of our class, always saying witty things to make us laugh. Imagine your brother, one of your children, your nephew and niece, your daughter, the one who makes everyone laugh, the clown, that was Jubilant. And one day at soccer, Jubilant made one too many jokes. And when our teacher Nathaniel began to punch and kick him, my stomach rolled again. The game froze, and we looked on horrified, and I thought Nathaniel would stop. But he didn't. He forced Jubilant to walk from the soccer field to the main building, all the while punching and kicking him. And Jubilant was sobbing, raising his hands to shield his head from the blows. And I thought surely Nathaniel would be dismissed as our school teacher. But the next day, he was back in the classroom with us. And I thought, "What's wrong with the people running this place? I don't want to have children here." Not wanting children was a sin that was forbidden. My best friend Grace was an unwanted child. Her mother had given her up at birth, and her adoptive parents shipped her from the U.S to our community, hoping that good influence would set her straight. Excuse me. She was a chocolate-skinned Mexican girl who arrived in Gloriavale when she was 13, just three years older than me. I loved that girl more than life. She giggled lots and made me fell safe. So we became best friends and spent as many moments as we could together. And Grace brought personal possessions from the outside world: music, jewelry, makeup. These were forbidden. And seeing them for the first time made Grace all the more special in my eyes. Her rebellious spirit inspired me. And over the years, Grace would be punished many times because she refused to be controlled. She was 20 when she came to me and told me the leaders had ordered her marriage to a man she didn't love. She was sobbing, trembling, tears were streaming down her cheeks. In desperation, she'd packed her bags, hidden them under a tree, called a friend on the outside to come rescue her, but she was discovered, taken before an inquisition of 20 men seated in a small room, condemned, forced to confess she was evil, forced to phone her outside family and say she didn't want to leave anymore. And I thought, "Fuck them. No one tells my best friend what to do." So I wrapped my arms around her and I said, "Don't listen to them. You do what you believe is right." Thankfully, her adoptive parents came through. They phoned Gloriavale and threatened to send in the police if Grace wasn't allowed to leave. The next day, she was gone. And she now lives happily in Canada. Excuse me. After the incident with Grace, I knew I had to leave too, or I would be forced to marry a man I didn't love. And I knew I had to take my little sisters with me, or the same thing would happen to them. I had one foot out the door already. When I was 11, my oldest sibling ran away. When I was 13, my next oldest sibling ran away. When I was 17, my younger brother threatened to leave. I didn't know it at the time, but my parents were ready to leave too. But they couldn't bear the thought of losing another child. They were waiting for me to come around so we could stay together. After what happened to Grace, I was ready to go. I left Gloriavale with my entire family less than a year after Grace had. And after I left the cult, I became obsessed with learning everything I could about human behavior because I thought, "If I can understand myself and others better, I can protect myself, I can make sure no one ever takes advantage of me ever again." And as I wrote the story of my life in a religious cult, I realized the leaders of Gloriavale used cruel tactics to control and manipulate me. They began by using shame to degrade me in front of the people I loved. It started with my grandfather publicly disgracing me for my six-year-old report card. His action sends a clear message of who's in charge. We all knew what would happen to people who dared Christian authority. But it didn't end there, they began using guilt to degrade my self-worth. When I was a child, they told me every day I was a worthless sinner. It was my fault. I was evil. I was the one to blame. When people treated me badly I thought I deserved it. I struggled to think correct for myself because I was always second-guessing: What if it is my fault? What if I am to blame? Now, they may have beaten me down, but they messed up when they mistreated the people I loved. My fury towards the injustices suffered by Grace, Jubilant, and Willing gave me the strength I hadn't been able to muster for myself. I couldn't stand by and watch someone I loved wrongly suffer. Love for others broke the chains that shackled me. But why was I willing to love them and not myself? Eventually, I realized that if ... I could learn to love myself the way I loved Willing, the way I love Jubilant and Grace, the way I love my little sisters, then I wouldn't take anyone's bullshit. So I asked, What does it mean to love myself? What does it mean to love myself so fully that if anyone ever tries to shame me again, I am the first to stand up for myself. I don't have all the answers, but I've come a long way. And I've come to realize that my six-year-old report card was bang-on. (Laughter) (Applause) And my grandfather was terrified of strong women. (Laughter) I'm a strong woman. I'm a leader. Today I know my leadership skills are priceless. I used them to leave the church and find my own way in the world that, honestly, still scares the living hell out of me. I used them when I was 23 to run a business and to write a book that teaches others what's possible. Now at 27 years old, I'm using them to stand here with you today. I use them every day to remind my six-year-old self she can do anything she wants to do and to never let anyone tell her otherwise. Thank you. (Applause) (Cheers)
Channel: TEDx Talks
Views: 7,487,714
Rating: 4.8767762 out of 5
Keywords: TEDxTalks, English, Life, Childhood, Community, Culture, Love, Religion, Society
Id: qS7mBbXxJYA
Channel Id: undefined
Length: 20min 5sec (1205 seconds)
Published: Thu Nov 16 2017
Reddit Comments

Great ted talk, thanks for sharing. Was able to relate with not standing by and watching loved ones get treated like garbage.

๐Ÿ‘๏ธŽ︎ 6 ๐Ÿ‘ค๏ธŽ︎ u/Dingosmom ๐Ÿ“…๏ธŽ︎ Feb 20 2019 ๐Ÿ—ซ︎ replies

What a beautiful message. That ending was powerful. What an amazing role model for young women. Thanks for sharing.

๐Ÿ‘๏ธŽ︎ 3 ๐Ÿ‘ค๏ธŽ︎ u/MagusSanguis ๐Ÿ“…๏ธŽ︎ Feb 20 2019 ๐Ÿ—ซ︎ replies

This was incredible. Makes me so sick knowing that those same tactics were used on me and my sisters and my cousins and my friends. Most of the generation underneath my parents are out. Including me and all of my sisters and several cousins. Feels empowering

๐Ÿ‘๏ธŽ︎ 2 ๐Ÿ‘ค๏ธŽ︎ u/TheBackPorchOfMyMind ๐Ÿ“…๏ธŽ︎ Feb 20 2019 ๐Ÿ—ซ︎ replies

I live in Christchurch and canโ€™t believe I missed this

๐Ÿ‘๏ธŽ︎ 2 ๐Ÿ‘ค๏ธŽ︎ u/vaughanchadz ๐Ÿ“…๏ธŽ︎ Feb 20 2019 ๐Ÿ—ซ︎ replies
Related Videos
Please note that this website is currently a work in progress! Lots of interesting data and statistics to come.