Whale Rider is a 2002 New Zealand drama film directed by Niki Caro, based on the novel of the same name by Witi Ihimaera. The film stars Keisha Castle-Hughes as Kahu Paikea Apirana, a 12-year-old girl struggling to become the chief of the tribe, a role traditionally reserved for males.

At the end when Paikea Apirana (“Pai”), decides to prove to her village and her grandfather that she can be the leader of her village and live up to her namesake, Paikiea, the Whale Rider. Her grandfather, Koro, is a traditionalist and doesn’t believe a girl is worthy enough to do anything as important as being the leader of the tribe.

According to Māori tradition, Paikea is an ancestor of Ngāti Porou, a Māori tribe of the east coast of New Zealand’s North Island. Paikea is the name assumed by Kahutia-te-rangi because he was assisted by humpback whales (paikea) to survive an attempt on his life by his half-brother Ruatapu.

Anyway, at the end, something happens and lots of whales become beached on the sand. Koro thinks its because of something they’ve done wrong. Paikea, on the other hand, thinks its because she needs to prove that she can be the Whale Rider. She gets up on the largest of the whales and as she coaches it back into the ocean, the others follow. Thinking his granddaughter is dead, Koro realizes that Paikea was exactly what they needed in a leader… but it is too late.

Even just thinking back on it I get teary eyed. 😦

Cathy at Chili Public Library

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