Whale Rider (1): Introduction
HUM 210 Online Course Pack - Fall 2006 - Prof. Cora Agatucci

MLA Style Works Cited bibliographical citation - film, DVD, videotape:

Whale Rider. Dir. Niki Caro. Perf. Keisha Castle-Hughes, Rawiri Paratene, Vicky Haughton, Cliff
.  South Pacific Pictures/ApolloMedia GmbH & Co. 5/Filmproduktion KG, 2002.  DVD. 
        Newmarket Films, 2003.

Film is adapted from the novel Whale Rider (first published 1987) by Witi Ihimaera.
Language: English & Maori; Run time: 101 min.
Rated PG-13
for brief language and a momentary drug reference.
Whale Rider, Internet Movie Database: http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0298228/
Whale Rider the Movie: http://www.whaleriderthemovie.com/
The movie of The Whale Rider was filmed in Whangara, north East Coast of New Zealand, and won these awards: Toronto International Film Festival 2002 The People's Choice Award, 2003 San Francisco Film Festival VirginMega Audience Award for Best Narrative Feature, 2003 Film Festival Rotterdam Canal+ Audience Award, 2003 Sundance Film Festival World Cinema Audience Award.

Paikea ("Pai") Apirana

Keisha Castle-Hughes
Koro Apirana

Rawiri Paratene
Nanny Flowers

Vicky Haughton
Porourangi Apirana

Cliff Curtis

FILM SYNOPSIS:  In a small New Zealand coastal village, Maori claim descent from Paikea, the Whale Rider. In every generation for more than 1000 years, a male heir born to the Chief succeeds to the title.  The time is now. The Chief's [Koro's] eldest son, Porourangi, fathers twins - a boy and a girl. But the boy and his mother die in childbirth. The surviving girl is named Paikea [called "Pai" for short]. Grief-stricken, her father Porourangi leaves her to be raised by her grandparents. Koro, her grandfather ["paka"] who is the Chief, refuses to acknowledge Paikea as the inheritor of the tradition and claims she is of no use to him. But her grandmother, Nanny Flowers, sees more than a broken line: she sees a child in desperate need of love. As Paikea grows up, Koro learns to love the child. When Paikea's father, Porourangi, now a feted international artist, returns home after twelve years, Koro hopes everything will be resolved and Porourangi will accept destiny and become Koro's successor. But Porourangi has no intention of becoming Chief. He has moved away from his people both physically and emotionally. After a bitter argument with his father Koro, Porourangi decides to leave and invites his daughter Paikea to come with him. She starts the journey but quickly returns, claiming her grandfather Koro needs her. Even so, Koro remains blinded by prejudice and even his wife Nanny Flowers cannot convince him that his granddaughter, Paikea, is the natural heir. The old Chief Koro is convinced that the tribe's misfortunes began at Paikea's birth and calls for his people to bring their 12-year-old firstborn boys to him for training. He is certain that through a grueling process of teaching the ancient chants, tribal lore and warrior techniques, the future leader of their tribe will be revealed to him. Meanwhile, deep within the ocean, a massive herd of whales is responding, drawn towards Paikea and their twin destinies. When the whales become stranded on the beach, Koro is sure this catastrophe signals an apocalyptic end to his tribe. But he is wrong. Only his granddaughter Paikea can hear and respond to the ancient call, can mount and ride the mystical whale of her ancestors into the depths - willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for her people and proving herself to be the true heir.

Witi IHIMAERA, author of the novel Whale Rider [first published in 1987] on which the film is based: Award-winning New Zealand writer Witi Ihimaera (The Matriarch, Tangi) was inspired to write Whale Rider in 1985 while living in an apartment in New York overlooking the Hudson River. "I heard helicopters whirling around and the ships in the river using all their sirens - a whale had come up the Hudson River and was spouting," he recalls. "It made me think of my home town, Whangara [New Zealand] and the whale mythology of that area."  New Zealand's indigenous Maori say that their ancestors came to New Zealand on a canoe. The people in Whangara and the East Coast believe their ancestor, Paikea, came on the back of a whale. The whale rescued him when his canoe over-turned.  Ihimaera had taken his daughters to a number of action movies, and they had asked him why in all of those movies the boy was the hero and the girl was the one who was helpless. "So I decided to write a novel in which the girl is the hero and I finished Whale Rider in three weeks."  Producer John Barnett was struck by the universality of the story when he first read it 10 years ago. "I think one of the most exciting things about Whale Rider is its international resonance - the themes are relevant in all sorts of societies and cultures throughout the world," he says.  Witi Ihimaera approved film director Niki Caro's adaptation: "...she updated the story so that it is very relevant beyond the year 2002. It's not just about a community that is faced with a particular problem of ancestry and succession, it's also about women and how they need to find and make their own way in society. Pai has become this iconic young girl who is desperately trying to seek her own sovereignty and her own destiny in a male-orientated world."

Whale Rider. South Pacific Pictures/ApolloMedia GmbH & Co. 5/Filmproduktion KG, 2002. [Last accessed:] 5 January 2004 <http://www.whaleriderthemovie.com/>.
Recommended Link: Witi IHIMAERA (Witi Tame Ihimaera-Smiler, 1944– ) novelist, short story writer, anthologist & librettist: http://www.bookcouncil.org.nz/writers/ihimaerawiti.htm

WHANGARA, New Zealand, the setting: "This novel was set in Whangara and it would almost have been heresy to shoot anywhere else," says Producer John Barnett. "There are physical things that are described in the book - the sweep of the bay, the island that looks like a whale, the meeting houses, and of course, the people whose legend we were telling...."  "Working at Whangara has had a whole lot of benefits including the ability to use the local people in our background cast and extras," adds Sanders. "Many of the people in smaller roles and our extras are actually locals - untrained, but of course very familiar with the Paikea legend and with their surroundings here."  The collaboration of the local Maori community and Hone Taumanu, the kaumatua [elder] of Whangara, gained with the help of Witi Ihimaera, was essential to the success of the film.  "In many ways, because it was the real area where the story has come from, we weren't cheating in our depiction. We weren't pretending that the wharenui [meeting house] was there when it wasn't. The beach was there; the waka [canoe] was there; even Koro's house was there," explains cinematographer Leon Narbey.

Synopsis of Novel, with Comment on Gender Roles in Traditional Maori Culture
and Comparisons to Film Version of the Story

THE BACKGROUND... In 1986, New Zealand author Witi Ihimaera, living in New York City, saw a whale stranded up the Hudson River. The sight made him homesick for the area he grew up in, and made him think of the story of the ancestor of his area. Over a period of three weeks, he wrote "the Whale Rider" - a story of Kahutia-te-Rangi, a story of Whangara, of small-town rural New Zealand, a story of the changing and breaking of years of Maori tradition and teaching. The story of a Maori chief whose eldest great-grandchild is not the boy he wanted. The story of a girl called Kahutia - Kahu - who could be the next chief. . . .

THE STORY... Kahutia was a girl who was meant to be a boy. She is the first child of her generation in the chief's family, and her birth breaks a long line of chiefs, stretching back to Paikea himself. Further than that, when she was born her mother died, and her father was not willing to just put things behind him, marry again, and produce another child (preferably a son) any time soon. In the movie, this is more tragic, more poignant. The movie is about a girl called Paikea, and over the opening scene, you hear her words: "There was no gladness when I was born. My twin brother died, taking our mother with him." This is the kind of life Kahu/Paikea leads… growing up with the knowledge that she was meant to be a boy, that she was meant to grow up to be chief of the tribe.

It is important to know here that the place of women in Maori society is much regulated by tradition. Women may not speak on a marae, they may not set foot on a waka (traditionally a war canoe), they may not learn to wield the taiaha (spear). They cannot see a tekoteko panel or a canoe being carved. They cannot take part in the schooling of future chiefs. It is the women who do the cooking, who do the karanga (welcome) for visitors to the marae. Women do not wear trousers on a marae. The women sing the waiata (songs) at the close of each speech, the men do the haka (war dance). A woman cannot be chief. Paikea/Kahutia challenges that.

She cannot see why she shouldn't be permitted to learn at the school the elders (including her great grandfather/grandfather, Koro or Paka) set up for the boys of her generation. A kura (school) to instruct the youngsters of the tribe in the way of the ancient ones. And youngsters means males. In the movie Nanny Flowers (her grandmother/great-grandmother) refuses to let the first lesson start until Paikea is there. Paikea does the karanga [welcome chant] for the manuhiri (visitors) while Nanny Flowers does the karanga for the tangatawhenua (hosts). Koro relents and suggests that Paikea can stay, but only if she sits at the back. She leaves, and learns the chant by listening through the windows, learns the taiaha
[fighting stick or spear] from her uncle. She bests one of the boys at the taiaha, on the marae [meeting place] grounds. Koro is angry, yells at her for breaking tapu (sacredness). She can do no good as far as he is concerned: because she is a girl. Were she a boy, she would be the one. But she isn't. In the book this whole exchange is present, and yet not as obvious.

The final test asked of the boys is one of endurance. Koro takes them out on a boat on the harbour, and explains how he was taught. The chief took a carved stone and threw it overboard. Whoever could return it would be the next chief. In the book, it is a stone; in the movie it is Koro's whaletooth pendant [reiputa],  the symbol of his chieftainship.  All the boys fail to retrieve it and it settles on the ocean floor. Later Paikea/Kahutia is out in the same spot with her uncle. She dives down, is gone for ages, and returns with the stone - and a crayfish for Koro. It is not until much later, at the end of the book/movie that Koro is given back the stone/pendant.

After the boys fail to return with the taonga (treasure, i.e. the stone/whaletooth pendant), Koro withdraws into himself. Paikea/Kahutia is sent away - she has disappointed Koro. Nevertheless she is still proud of her heritage, her family, and she writes a speech which she delivers partially in Maori. She leads the Maori Culture Group, and Koro is her special guest at the end of year concert. The audience is told that she won the school prize and the district prize for her speech. The power in this part of the film is awesome. Dressed in the Culture Group 'costume', holding a small cup, her lips blackened traditionally, unruly hair partially tamed by a headband, she gives her speech. Dedicated to her Koro, who was not there, the empty chair in the front row. "I come from a long line of Maori chiefs, stretching back to Paikea. I broke that line, and it is nobody's fault it was broken" she says.

Meanwhile, down on the beach, the whales that Kahutia/Paikea called because her Koro was calling them and they were not answering him, are stranded and dying. Kahutia/Paikea is not allowed to help, not allowed to watch. They're trying to protect her. One by one, the whales give up - if they can only get the king whale out, it will be fine, the others will follow. But it is not to be. "He wants to die," Koro says. Paikea has other ideas… going down to the beach as the others leave, she greets the whale with a hongi. She climbs onto his back, she pats him, she talks to him, and she asks him to move. He moves... when the people leaving the beach turn around Paikea is not in sight, the big whale is not in sight, the rest of the whales are not in sight. Nanny Flowers gives Koro the stone/pendant. He looks at her. "Which one? Which one?" "Do you need to ask that?" It was Paikea/Kahutia, of course. And she is out at sea on the back of a whale, and no one thinks to see her back.

Later her body is washed up on the beach. She lives, but is in a coma. In hospital, Koro waits at her bed, he is ready for her to be his successor. She wakes.

The movie closes with a scene that, to appreciate, requires understanding of Maori customs & tapu. Paikea and Koro are on a waka, a war canoe - the one Paikea's father Porourangi never finished carving, the one she went to when she needed to think. She calls the chant for the paddlers to follow, to keep time to. Male and female must be joined together to keep the community strong.

Note:  Paikea is the name of the heroine of the movie; she is called Kahutia in the book. Koro is her grandfather ("paka") in the movie: in the book he is her great-grandfather.

Source: Kahutia/Paikea - The Whale Rider.  22 April 2003. Relative Gems [no web author given]. [Last accessed:] 5 Jan. 2004 <http://www.geocities.com/ratesjul/whalerider.html>.

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Whale Rider (1): Introduction
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Last updated: 18 September 2006