Whale Rider by Witi Ihimaera
The current news includes the heartbreaking story of pilot whales beaching themselves on a New Zealand island, dying in droves as the residents try to save them. I cannot but think of the book, The Whale Rider, written by Witi Ihimaera, every time I see the pictures.
This is an old book (1987) but it is one that bears rereading. It is rich in Maori history, and is told in the present tense as well as in the words of the legends and myths showing the Maori relationship with the gods and the creatures of the sea.
“If the story has a beginning, it is with Kahu, “a disappointing girl born in the line of the great chiefs. By custom, leadership falls from the eldest son to the eldest son. To have a great-granddaughter interrupt the line was an inconsolable sorrow to Great-grandfather Koro. He vows to have nothing to do with the child. However, she adores him from the first moment she sees him, and will not be dissuaded from loving him no matter how cruelly he ignores her.
When Koro begins to despair of passing the mantle, he starts classes in Maori traditions, hoping to find a fitting young man to come into the line. While he teaches inside, Kahu is learning outside. Not surprisingly, the teaching takes place in the community building. When Kahu was born off island, her afterbirth was brought back to her island and community, and buried just there. Legend has it that the first golden whale rider threw his last spear to mark his people – and that it had landed, just there.
The story follows Kahu’s young life and her ability to communicate with the sea and its hosts. When whales begin to beach themselves on her island, she is the one to save them from total destruction.
There are tears to be shed here, and much laughter as we meet the various family members, including Koro and his wife, Nanny Flowers, queen of the motorcycle gang, and the narrator, Kahu’s uncle. This book is engrossing and touching, and unfortunately, timely. It has been made into an amazing movie worthy of the book. – Review by Jan Cravens, Youth Services assistant