Dawn Raids play revived on back of state apology

By Breanna Tugaga-Rogers

Breanna Tugaga-Rogers is a Te Rito Journalism cadet

Playwright Oscar Kightley’s Dawn Raids play returns to the main stage after 25 years, ignited by the government’s formal apology to Pacific communities last year.

A collaboration between the original Dawn Raids theatre company, Pacific Underground and Auckland Theatre Company, the play was revived at the ASB Waterfront Theatre this month.

Written by Oscar Kightley over two decades ago, Dawn Raids tells the real-life stories of Pacific Islanders who experienced the notorious dawn raids in central Tāmaki Makarau in the 1970s.

Bella Kalolo-Suraj (Ngāti Porou, Ngāti Hāmoa, Ngāti Tonga) who played the mother, To’aga Tapili, says the story is told through the real lens of people they know.

“All of them are sections of stories that have been taken from each whānau or family member at work or a workmate that they’ve heard from, so it’s all true. It’s heavy sometimes or even all the time for us. It’s heavy to portray that realness and the reality and honesty, to tell the truth of that time now.”

Producer and director Tanya Muagututi’a (Ngāti Hāmoa) from Pacific Underground says they’re really focused on supporting a new generation coming on stage and leaving space for them.

The same trauma

“When we first did it (1997/98), the Dawn Raids had only happened 20 years before, you know, and now we're 50 years on, and here we are with a new generation, and it hits different… but it's the same. It’s the same trauma, and it's the same healing that is needed.”

Muagututi’a says it’s important these stories keep being told in the rawest way possible because there is no polite way to talk about it: “People went through the trauma that we’re still going through today.”

Kalolo-Suraj says this is "super important as a story to be able to tell and also as an educational tool to help our rangatahi understand, where and how and why we came from where we came .”

The play showcases the many nuances of Pacific people during that time, with an added layer of understanding to showcase the deep-rooted feelings of that period.

Italia Hunt (Ngāti Hāmoa) plays a Sāmoan policeman, and his character sheds light on a largely untold perspective.

Kalolo-Suraj says of Hunt’s character that he not only had to provide for his family but as a sergeant in Aotearoa, he had to get money in the bank to send back to Sāmoa.

Representing his whānau

“The whole thing is just munted because it's like, he needs the job to send money to talk to his dad and say' the money is on its way' and how he’s getting it but he’s getting it by ripping our people off. He’s getting it by putting our people behind bars. And that’s a crappy, crappy existence.”

Hunt says he has always tried to find a way to pay homage to his family, which was directly involved in the Dawn Raids and being a part of this play has allowed him to help tell the story and represent his whānau.

“I’m born and raised in Grey Lynn and some of my family were even part of the original Polynesian Panthers, so this story has a lot of meaning to me personally. which is amazing.”

Hunt says this is the perfect time to highlight "the things that have happened and are still happening, and how they’re connected".

“A lot of people think all of the Dawn Raids stuff in terms of racism and discrimination has gone away. Personally, I don’t think that's the case. There are still a whole lot of things that are happening in this world and in our backyard too.”

Dawn Raids is at the ASB Waterfront Theatre until September 3.