Edward Oliver Haddon, later known as Ōriwa Tahupōtiki Haddon, was born at Waitōtara, South Taranaki, on 7 November 1898, the eldest son of a Māori Methodist minister, Robert Tahupōtiki Haddon of Ngāti Ruanui, and his wife, Huihana (Susan) Haerehau Shelford of Hokianga. Tahupōtiki Haddon had been trained in traditional knowledge by his relative Tohu Kākahi of Parihaka, but through the influence of the Methodist missionary T. G. Hammond had entered the Methodist ministry. Through Oliver’s early life, Tahupōtiki ministered to Māori in South Taranaki, seeking to reconcile them to Christianity and to Pākehā. Oliver attended school at Ōkaiawa and Normanby, and entered Wesley College at Three Kings, Auckland, in 1914.
About 1919 he and other members of his family went to the United States to participate in a concert party and lecture tour, travelling the country as part of the Chautauqua and Lyceum circuits, which presented a mixture of lectures, theatre and vaudeville entertainment. Oliver lectured to audiences on Māori life and customs. On 12 September 1920 at Billings, Montana, he married the talented pianist in the concert party, Ruihi Moringa (Marianga) Reupena of Whanganui. They were to have four sons.
While in America Haddon is supposed to have undertaken a course in industrial pharmacy, and on his return may have practised briefly in Whanganui as a chemist, but his career soon took a different turn. He was received on probation into the Methodist ministry in 1922, and apparently intended to go as a missionary to the Solomon Islands. However, Moringa became ill and he was stationed at Gonville in Whanganui in 1925, with a specifically Māori ministry. Moringa died at Pūtiki on 4 February 1926, and on 16 February, at Whanganui, Oliver married Maaki Rakapa Taiaroa of Ngāi Tahu. The marriage was arranged to join Ngāti Ruanui and Ngāi Tahu in kinship. Oliver and Maaki were to have four daughters and three sons. Oliver was appointed missioner to Kawakawa in 1926.
In 1927 Tahupōtiki Haddon, who was by now recognised as the senior Methodist Māori minister, was permitted to retain links with the Rātana church despite growing hostility from other denominations, and as a token of this he stationed Oliver and Maaki in Rātana pā, with responsibility for the school there. This was the beginning of a long association with the Rātana movement. They continued in this role for a number of years, also providing secretarial support for T. W. Rātana, although they always remained Methodists. Oliver developed his oratorical skills and became known as a brilliant speaker on the marae. He and Maaki returned to Whanganui in 1930, and Oliver took up pharmacy work, perhaps in 1931, at a time when the Methodist Māori mission was seeking to reduce its costs.
From about this time he preferred to use the name Ōriwa Tahupōtiki Haddon. He had also gained a reputation as an artist and was proclaimed ‘Our 1929 discovery’ by Pat Lawlor’s New Zealand Artists Annual. His illustrated story ‘Tiki of the dawn’ was published in the Annual that year. He was commissioned by the Taranaki Māori Trust Board in 1933 to paint a picture of the 1840 signing of the Treaty of Waitangi. The painting was presented to the governor general, Lord Bledisloe, in 1934 and hung in the Treaty House at Waitangi.
Soon after the former Methodist minister Colin Scrimgeour was appointed controller of the National Commercial Broadcasting Service in 1936, Haddon was appointed to a position at the radio station 2ZB in Wellington, as one of a group of Māori broadcasters introduced by Scrimgeour at this time. Haddon became well known as a broadcaster for his accounts of Māori history, mythology and poetry. He broadcast his own programme, ‘Ōriwa’s Māori Session’, and also made contributions to others and to 5ZB, the travelling station, which broadcast from a specially fitted-out railway carriage.
Yet another change of career followed when during the Second World War he enlisted in the air force, attaining the rank of leading aircraftsman. He travelled to the Pacific islands, and further developed his artistic talents, which had always received popular acclaim. His painting ‘Māori mythology’ appeared in the 1944 New Zealand Artists in Uniform exhibition, and a pen and ink work, ‘Hine Kohu and Uenuku’, was included in the National Centennial Exhibition of New Zealand Art in 1940. He was also employed by the Department of Tourist and Health Resorts and Publicity to execute a series of oil paintings for the centennial celebrations, and contributed illustrations to books and magazines.
Haddon had been involved with Labour Party politics since the early 1930s. In 1934 he was among a group of Māori Labour supporters who tried unsuccessfully to establish a national Māori newspaper. Because of his links with Rātana, on his return to civilian life after the Second World War he was invited to join a group of Labour-allied Rātana MPs in the preparation of what became the Māori Social and Economic Advancement Act 1945. He also became dominion organising secretary of the Labour Party’s Māori Advisory Council and edited their publication, The Māori way of life (1946). This position took him all over New Zealand, and his renown as an orator on the marae served him in good stead.
In 1948 Haddon broke publicly with the Rātana MPs and left the Labour Party. He evidently felt that the Rātana movement was disintegrating and that the Labour Party had ignored its Māori members and failed to place them in administrative posts. He moved to set up an independent Māori political party outside the Rātana movement, but without success. However, his activities did lead to a call for the Māori Advisory Council to be reorganised and its representation strengthened.
Haddon subsequently retired from politics and moved to Nelson, where he gained commissions as a painter. An artist with an easy skill, who adapted Māori motifs to Pākehā tastes, he became well known for a number of large-scale distinctive works, using Māori motifs combined with western portraiture. A series of eight paintings was executed for the Commercial Hotel, Blenheim, depicting local history from Cook’s landing to the present day, with a centrepiece showing the attempted arrest of Te Rauparaha at Tuamarina. After retiring to Utiku, he painted murals on commission for the local Returned Services’ Association. He died at Taihape on 17 June 1958 after a car accident, and was buried in the Māori cemetery at Ōkaiawa, Taranaki. He was survived by his second wife, who had not accompanied her husband on his numerous escapades, and eleven children.