Rowley Habib

(Rore Hapipi)

Rowley Habib, Te Waka Toi Awards 2013 144
Rowley Habib, Te Waka Toi Awards 2013. Photo courtesy of Creative New Zealand.

Rowley Habib (Rore Hapipi)’s Biography

Discipline:
Writer
Awards:
Katherine Mansfield Menton Fellowship 1984
Iwi:
Ngāti Tūwharetoa
Highlight:
“I had the problem that nobody wanted to touch Māori theatre with a ten-foot pole – hundred-foot pole really! So, I had to battle to break down that barrier too.” – Rowly Habib, 1984 Katherine Mansfield Menton Fellow

Rowley Habib is a playwright, poet, and writer of short stories and television scripts. He grew up in Oruanui, near Taupō, as the youngest son of a Lebanese father and a Māori mother, and is regarded as being one of the first writers to bring an genuinely Māori perspective to the New Zealand stage and screen.

His writing career started to really take shape in 1956, when his stories, poems and articles began appearing in Te Ao Hou, a quarterly published by the Māori Affairs Department. He was also published in Landfall and quarterly Arena.

Habib had a natural ear for dialogue, and it wasn’t long before he got involved in theatre. Around 1976, keen to see more Māori stories on stage, Habib founded the theatre group Te Ika a Māui Players. Though not the first Māori play, Habib's Death of the Land (1976) is probably the earliest to be widely seen. Te Ika a Māui performed it around the country in community halls and marae; it was adapted for radio and for television, and later collected in landmark volume He Reo Hou. The screen adaptation was made independently at Avalon television studios in 1978, using actors from Te Ika a Māui.

In 1979 Habib became the first Māori to write an original drama specifically for television, when he was commissioned to write The Gathering. In 1983 he explored land ownership with his television series The Protestors, which won him the 1983 Feltex award for best script, and in 1984 Habib was awarded the Katherine Mansfield Menton Fellowship.

His anthology of poetry, The Raw Men, was published by O-a-Tia Publishers in 2006, and in 2013 he was honoured for his lifelong contribution to Māori Arts, at the annual Te Waka Toi awards. He passed away in 2016, aged 83.