Rowley Habib — also known as Rore Hapipi — was one of the first writers to bring a genuinely Māori perspective to New Zealand stage and screen. His play Death of the Land is seen as a landmark in the development of Māori theatre. In 1983 Habib won a Feltex Award for land rights drama The Protestors, part of a trio of pioneering one-off plays for television. Habib passed away on 3 April 2016.
I had the problem that nobody wanted to touch Māori theatre with a ten-foot pole. A hundred-foot pole really. Rowley Habib, recalling the early days of Māori theatre
This 38 episode series revolved around the ups and downs of a community house run by Tony Van Der Berg (Frank Whitten). The series was devised by Liddy Holloway to meet a network call for an Eastenders-style drama that might tackle social issue storylines. It was the first drama series to put a Māori whānau (the Mitchells) at its centre. Despite being well-reviewed, it was perhaps the last gasp of Avalon-produced uncompromisingly local drama (satirised as the ‘Wellington style’), before TV production largely shifted to Auckland to face up to commercial pressures.
With a stellar cast, including Jim Moriarty, Merata Mita and Billy T James (as a Marxist), The Protesters explores issues surrounding race and land ownership in NZ in the aftermath of the Springbok Tour and occupation of Bastion Point. A group of Māori and Pākehā protestors occupy ancestral land that the government is trying to sell. As they wait for the police to turn up they debate whether to go quietly or respond with violence. Though some wounds are healed, The Protesters ends on a note of division and uncertainly, gauging the contemporary climate.
This teledrama explores the tensions surrounding an elderly woman's tangi, as whānau members gather in a suburban house. Alienation of urban Māori — particularly son Paul (Jim Moriarty) — from iwi roots, and differing notions of how to honour the dead, are at the heart of the conflict between the mourners. A pioneering exploration of Māori themes, the Rowley Habib teleplay was one of three one-off dramas the playwright wrote (alongside 1978's The Death of the Land, and 1982's The Protesters) encouraged by director Tony Isaac. It screened in April 1980.
This courtroom drama sets in conflict opinions about the proposed sale of a block of Māori ancestral land. The arguments are intercut with footage of the 1975 land march, and Jim Moriarty comments on proceedings as a tangata whenua conscience. The drama shows its stage origins (it was adapted by Rowley Habib from his 1976 play) but it is passionate and articulate, and is notable as the first TV drama to be written by a Māori scriptwriter. The grievances aired echoed contemporary events, particularly the Eva Rickard-led occupation of the Raglan Golf Course.
This 1977 film looks at the meeting of the 'two rivers' (Māori and Pākehā, oral and written) of the Aotearoa literary tradition. Rowley Habib is a guide as hui take place and readings of contemporary Māori poetry are set to images of Māori life, from Parihaka and land march photos to Bastion Point, urban scenes and a Black Power hangi. Poets include Mana Cracknell, Peter Croucher, Robin Kora, (a young) Keri Hulme, Brian King, Apirana Taylor, Katarina Mataira, Don Selwyn, Henare Dewes, Rangi Faith, Dinah Rawiri, Haare Williams, Hone Tuwhare, and Arapera Blank.
A 1973 interview with a 51-year-old Hone Tuwhare at the Maori Writers' and Artists' Conference, at Te Kaha's Tukaki Marae. One of New Zealand’s best loved and lauded poets, Tuwhare speaks of the various influences on his writing - sex, religion, trade unionism and communism - to name a few. Poet Rowley Habib sits alongside Hone in the interview and contributes to the conversation occasionally. This documentary also features a poetry reading from The Globe Theatre, Dunedin.