A friend recommended this to me a few years ago and so finally I pulled it off my bookshelf and read it and after such a long time of being embedded in bricks, or books that I wasn’t particularly taken with, The Whale Rider felt like a breath of fresh sea air.
Ihimaera chose to tell the story not from Kahu’s point of view, but from her Uncle Rawiri instead, giving the story the feel of a modern day legend. Kahu herself became more of a secondary character.
In a modern day world, culture becomes eroded and past beliefs, history and a the old ways of life are forgotten. Koro Apirana the chief from Whangara is fighting to maintain the old ways of life by providing lessons to the young members of the Maori population.
The Maori tribe from Whangara, believe that the first person to come to their land was brought by a whale. He was the Whale Rider and the ancestor of Koro Apirana. It is his belief that only a male line will continue and keep their people alive.
Yet Kahu is female and so she cannot be the one to inherit the title of chief, to carry on the lineage and traditions of the tribe.
Far away, in the deepness of the sea an ancient pod of whales, lead by the eldest one of them all looks into the past when once he carried the Whale Rider, Paikea on his back . Driven by this belief and nostalgia he leads his pod away from their feeding grounds and towards Whangara.
The Whale Rider is the story of how the past must reconcile itself to the future, the identity of the Maori people and the importance of staying true to oneself and the beliefs. There is a strong environmental cord threading through the story: careless overfishing instead of looking after the ocean wildlife their people were born from. Those people who, instead of saving the whales wished only to butcher their bodies for their meat and blubber.
It is told in a sometimes rather simplistic style, much like a children’s book, perhaps to emulate the feeling of how a legend may be told. It feels very naturalistic and I like how the Maori language is also integrated into the writing.
There is a movie of The Whale Rider, which I have yet to watch and from the trailer it looks to be quite different, but really good. The book is lovely and I would be interested in reading others by Ihimaera. I like reading about different cultures and this is a good, short little introduction.