Ete and Mele's journey

Watch Ete's story from a violent past, a journey of self-growth and finally a reunion with his wife Mele and family. Through years of therapy and counseling, he committed himself to break the cycle of violence and learn healthier ways to manage his anger. Join Ete and Mele as they share their story of hope and change.

Soft piano music plays in background throughout video.

A black screen with white text saying 'Warning. This video contains discussions of violence. Viewer discretion is advised.’

Ete, is a strong looking, middle aged Samoan man wearing a grey hoody is standing in the bush surrounded by trees. Ete is cast in shadow and there is light coming through from the tree canopy above.

Ete: “My name is Eteuati Ete.”

Cut to Ete and Mele are in their living room with a brick fireplace surrounded by artwork and ornaments. There are windows that look out into their garden. Ete, is wearing a grey T-shirt. His wife, Mele, is wearing a bright shirt with plant patterns on it, her hair is tied into a bun, she has a Samoan tattoo on her right wrist, and she is wearing a Frangipani Flower Sei.

Ete: “Now 60 years old, born in Samoa, came to New Zealand when I was 12. My parents came to New Zealand to be ministers of the EFKS church in Newtown, Wellington.”  

Cut to Ete running along Wellington waterfront as the wind ripples through his shirt. Breathless, he reaches the edge of the concrete platform and looks out over the harbour to see the expanse of water, hillsides, and cityscape.

Ete: “I grew up learning from a very young age that for you to get people to do what you want, discipline, as we call it in Samoan.”

Cut back to Ete and Mele in their living room.

Ete: “It was a very acceptable thing. Being hit as a child was normal. So I grew up believing that to make people behave in a certain way violence was… part of that.”  

Cut to Ete standing outside surrounded by trees looking up with a look of grief and of strength on his face. He has a Samoan arm-band tattoo on his left arm and a Samoan wrist-band tattoo on right arm. He rubs the goosebumps on his arms from the cold.

Ete: “In terms of what happened to me as a child, I… think many of us … carry trauma that we're not aware of for… years and… we often suppress a lot of that.”

Cut to Ete standing on a balcony at his home. He appears contemplative as he looks out over a view of suburban hills and the ocean. The camera does a close-up on his Samoan wristband tattoo.

Ete: “And it wasn't until I… had to tell my story about my violence that I actually came to understand where a lot of the anger for me came from.”

Cut back to Ete and Mele in the living room.

Ete: “For me part of the reluctance in in sharing my story has always been the love and the respect that I have for my parents, because it implicates them and to the outside world some of their actions might appear to have been negligent. But they've agreed for us to talk about this openly in the hope that it helps others as well.”

Cut to Ete walking from the living room to another room where there is a wedding photo on the wall and multiple shelves filled with books, certificates, and children’s toys. He pulls out a photo of his wife and child and looks deeply sad and regretful as he looks at it.

Ete: “I didn't realise how old I was when my parents went to Japan and left me in Samoa with my  father's parents, until I had to… tell my story of… my violence and my anger.”

Cut back to Ete and Mele in the living room.

Ete: “Because I needed to understand where the anger was coming from. So, I plucked up the courage one Sunday to ask my mum.  Said ‘Mama how … old was I when ah you guys went to Japan for two years and left me with Pa and Ma?’ And my mom said, ‘you were two and a half years old.’

Ete: “That experience I think really, really, really affected me. Because when they came back, I had no idea who they were, and by then my grandfather had become my rock. My family…tell the story of me not being able to sleep without his touch.” 

Cut to Ete looking straight into the camera. There is a deep sadness in his eyes.

Ete: “To be ripped away from that, it sort of taught me that it was just me and the world and that being abandoned was a natural thing.”

Cut back to Ete and Mele in their living room.

Ete: “The other incident that I think really, really affected me as a young child was at the age of six I slept downstairs with a young man who came to live with us. I realised I had a memory of me being in bed and being felt like I was being smothered with a blanket in that room.  A totally separate memory of me running up the stairs, and it's vivid it's like a camera pan shot going up the stairs, running down the dark hallway shouting to my parents that something had happened. And then from there the absence of this young man from our lives.  His name was never spoken of again. So, I think those two events together. Sort of those two children the three-year-old and the six-year-old, they're never far from the surface.”

Cut to Ete smiling as he is playing the guitar in his living room.

Ete: “One screaming 'where are you?' and the other one saying, 'get off me.' You scratch the surface hard enough and I think they… jump out, they leap out.”

Cut back to Ete and Mele in their living room. Ete's fingers rub his forearm as he recounts his memories.

Ete: “In terms of  deep meaningful relationship, I… was never able to sustain those, I guess. Because I guess it was a lot of shame in being who I… really was because I think that's a constant theme that sort of goes through victims of violence. If… you tell a child that they're no good and that they're always doing bad things. The child doesn't end up hating you for saying those things. The child ends up believing you and hating themselves for that. So, in terms of relationships with women, again that whole script of ‘nothing's going to last, they will always leave you.’  And… that often played out. But I was always fearful of loving too much and being that two-and-a-half-year-old kid again or that four-year-old kid again thinking that I can't, I can't allow myself to be cradled in the arms of someone that I might be torn away from again.”  

Cut to Ete in the bush rubbing goosebumps on his arms. He looks extremely sad and vulnerable. His voice shakes as he continues to speak.

Ete: “I think that, that constant fear of being abandoned has… always been there and when things got too serious or I… felt like I was I was too vulnerable. I… acted out and it was easier for them to go, than it was for me to say I've got to go.” 

Cut to Ete standing in his running clothes at Wellington Harbour. He has one foot up on edge of the platform as he takes a break to look out over the harbour and feel the wind.

Ete: “My my first marriage, I'd always wanted children, I'd always loved children.”

Cut back to Ete and Mele in the living room.

Ete: “I've never thought that my life would be worth much without having children. I really treasured having my children, but I neglected their… mum. I… thought I could control her; I thought I could make her stay. But ultimately the… verbal, the psychological abuse was… too much for her.”


Cut to Ete outside carefully fastening the strap of his helmet and zipping up a leather jacket. He drives his motorbike up a driveway lined by green hedges.

Ete: “And the two children that I treasured the most, ah I… inflicted so much pain on them. It's something that I'll never forgive myself for.”

Cut to Ete and Mele wearing jackets and shorts, walking down wooden steps through a bush track.

Mele: “In the nine-month sort of courtship period where we decide, you know, we were going to be married etcetera, I never experienced the angry side of Ete, he was always very good at masking that.”

Cut back to Ete and Mele in their living room.

Mele: “About two years after we had met, we had got married, that I called the police. After that sort of, I don't know, the fourth, fifth incident. I called the police they came, arrested Ete, he spent the night at Wellington Central and then he and his children went to live with his parents, and I stayed in the house.

There was always a lot of love despite… the violence. You know that side of our relationship never left, it was it's always been there. But I, and so I knew that his anger was triggered by some psychological baggage. And you know at the time we didn't know exactly all of the other things that Ete has talked to you about in terms of his childhood. But I knew he, the oldest son of a church minister, you know, he copped it the most compared with his younger brothers.

 Two years violence free we then had an argument, and he decides to hit me again. So, I rang the cops again. This time he tried to prevent me from actually ringing … 111. This was four years after we were married. I was done I couldn't do anymore. I was like ‘I'm out of here, I'm divorcing him I just can't do this anymore. I've tried. I'm not going to have my children be raised in an environment where you know there's violence.’

Nine months to a year we had more and more contact and we reconciled. I actually just decided that I would take him back but there was no way that I was going to live under the same roof as Ete. We were very much married but living in separate households. And we did that for nine years. And for a lot of people we'd explain you know they go ‘oh you live separately?’ ‘Oh, but oh so do you have an open relationship?’ No, no, we're very much married and committed to each other but he lives on that side of Island Bay, and I live in this side and it's fantastic because we're together when we want to be together and it’s quality time and it's safe. So, he moved back in with me, but 9 years later things were so much better, and we were older, and we'd worked out a whole lot of that other stuff and it was fine.

Initially I was, I had some real trepidation about would this trigger Ete's violence again and it never did and that was fine. So that was fifteen years ago now and we couldn't ever imagine living apart now, like that. But at the time that was the saving grace of our marriage that enabled us to have time and space away from each other but to be together on our own terms which were safe, and … quality times.”

Ete: “Only one person was able to say, 'Ete you need to stop or you're going to jail.' And that's when I thought, 'there's actually going to be a consequence, for this violence.”

Cut to close-up of Ete’s face as he stands outside in the bush. His expression is contemplative as he looks around his surroundings.

Ete: “There's actually going to be a consequence and I have to choose whether I stop or whether Mele goes, the kids go.”

Cut back to Ete and Mele in the living room.

Ete: “So there's been one woman. There's been two children, now there are going to be two women and four children! The most precious things to me are going to be lost if I don't stop.  The first step I took was to step off that dock, after the judge had said 'if I see you in front of me one more time you are going to jail.' The step I took off that dock said, 'this is going to be the last time you stand in this place.' Violence, hitting was no longer an option for me.”

Mele: “So it was both a self-determination from on Ete's part, you know 'I've got to change.' But also, professionals helping Ete to manage, to… really dig deep psychologically, to look at his behaviours, and his feelings and what had really gone on for him. I think that was very, very helpful.”  

Ete: “And… to hear other men and to see other men from all walks of life. I was sitting around Palagi men, older men, younger men, men that I would walk past in the street and think 'oh he's a good … law abiding citizen. He would be a lovely husband.' To hear that they had the same problems, they had the same issues was…really… good. I thought the therapy was amazing, but I think the living it is becoming it, and that takes years in… my experience. It's years and years to get to the point where we are now.”

Cut to Ete and Mele in the kitchen, they are holding hands and looking at family photo on their fridge.

Ete: “… like climbing a mountain.”

Cut to Ete removing cushions by the window. The window has a view of the ocean. He puts on his glasses and sits inside the widow box with his feet up reading a book and smiling. His voice breaks with a hint of joy as he speaks.

Ete: “It's not until you stop, and you look back that you realise how far you've come, because sometimes all you focus on are the roots and the steps and the pain.”

Cut to Ete and Mele in the bush smiling with their eyes closed and their noses pressed against each other in a hongi.

Ete: “And you're looking into the darkness of the mountain and then suddenly you stop, take a couple deep breaths, you look back and you think, wow.”

Cut to Ete in the bush smiling looking at something in front of him, maybe it is Mele. The camera shot moves to the tree canopy tree branches and ferns entangle and the sunlight shines through between their leaves.

Cut to Ete and Mele in their living room. Ete is starting to cry.

Ete: “The climb's been worth it. The climb's been worth it. You don't know how you got there but the view looks good, and it's been worth every single step. People will follow. Your friends will be behind you. You might not see it but because you're in this space and you're looking at this video, you have hope. Go for it. no one can stop you but you. You'll be fine.”

Cut to Ete standing on Wellington waterfront, the wind is rippling through his shirt. He has a huge smile on his face. The shot shifts out of focus as it circles around him.

Soft piano music stops.

The screen fades to black, text appears saying: ‘In Your Hands. Change starts here for you and your whanau.’

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