MORVIN SIMON wrote his first song while he was a 14-year-old schoolboy at Hato Paora College.

He's now 68, and people are still singing it.

Last month he was rewarded for his contribution to kapa haka with an honorary BA in Maori Performing Arts from Whakatane-based Te Wananga o Awanuiarangi. The award was given at a symposium for haka and waiata composition held in Rotorua. Many of Mr Simon's 11 children and 46 grandchildren went with him, and stood behind him to sing after his acceptance speech.

But he said the biggest honour of the occasion was being in the presence of his fellow award winner, Dr Ngapo Wehi, "the master himself". Dr Wehi is the co-ordinator of one of New Zealand's champion kapa haka groups, Auckland's Waka Huia.


Kapa haka (performance haka) has been part of Mr Simon's life from birth. He grew up at Kaiwhaiki Marae, on the Whanganui River about 20km from Whanganui town.

His grandparents and his parents, John and Meri Simon, were all involved in performing arts. His father was a multi-instrumentalist and was the Kaiwhaiki choirmaster.

Morvin grew up to play piano, guitar and trumpet and became choirmaster after him.

His choir made the popular Kaiwhaiki - Valley of Voices recordings, and he was also the leader of Te Matapihi, a Whanganui River kapa haka group that competed successfully at national level. Its ranks had thinned recently, but he said 30 members would be performing at the national Te Matatini competition in Rotorua next year.

He and his wife, Kura, "an excellent organiser", also co-ordinate Te Taikura o Te Awa Tupua, an over-55 kapa haka group. It performs for fun, and practises every Sunday in Whanganui's Salvation Army hall.

Over the years Mr Simon has written hundreds of songs. Many of them were for special occasions, such as the passing of iwi leader Sir Archie Taiaroa. Some have European tunes, and others use his own.

One of his best known songs is Te Aroha, written in 1983 to soothe the situation during a fractious worker collectives hui (gathering). It's brief and is often sung by groups going on to marae.

He's also written three books, Taku Whare E I, II and III. The first two give a brief description of all the marae in the wider region. The third, launched last weekend, is about his home marae at Kaiwhaiki.

"It's a big history of Kaiwhaiki - where we come from, where we are today and what we hope to do in the future."

He said its 80 pages came straight out of his own memory. The first 150 copies are gone already, and H & A Print has another 100 on the way.

It's not a definitive history, leaving room for other people to say their piece.

"I have fished the morning tide. I leave the evening tide to you," he says at the end of it.

The books are funded by a family trust, and anyone who wants one can ring Stephanie Simon on 347 6680.

As well as composing songs, writing books and leading kapa haka groups Mr Simon has also worked as a cultural adviser and teacher.

He's currently the fulltime senior te reo Maori tutor for Te Wananga o Aotearoa in Whanganui.