The Whale Rider

 /   /  By Emma Birches
Stone Soup Magazine
January/February 2005

by Witi Ihimaera, Reviewed by Nayna Shah

The Whale Rider book cover

The Whale Rider by Witi Ihimaera;
Harcourt, Inc.: New York, 1987; $17

I enjoyed reading The Whale Rider by Witi Ihimaera because the main character, Kahu, had many characteristics which I admire. She is also a girl whose values I can relate to. Kahu believes that boys and girls would do equally well leading their tribe. She was determined to prove this to her grandfather. He kept kicking her out of the boys’ lessons, saying that she cannot be the leader, because she is a girl. When Kahu heard this she got a little sad because she loved her grandfather but she did not want this to get in her way.

Kahu was so determined to learn the ways of her people, she looked through the windows of the classroom to see what the boys were learning. She asked them to teach her, and soon she became very good at fighting and saying some chants that only boys were supposed to know. Although her grandfather did not want a girl to learn a boy’s lessons, Kahu continued to do so. Kahu wanted to show him that a girl could do anything that a boy could do. I admire her courage and her strong will to go after what she wanted.

Kahu cared about her tribe and her culture. If her grandfather worried about something that was going on with the tribe then she would worry too. She wanted to learn the traditions, so that if she became leader, she could pass them on. Kahu was trying to show that she was strong and trustworthy. Half of her wanted to impress her grandfather and wanted him to love her even if she was a girl, and the other half was just proving that everyone is equal. I admire the respect that she shows to her grandfather and to the traditions of her people.

Some of the cultural things that Kahu is learning are similar to the ones that I am learning. We are both being taught what gods to pray to, and how to pray to them. The Maori tribe believed that their great ancestor Paikea was able to ride and talk to a whale. That whale was the one they worshiped and believed was a god, as well as Paikea. In our Hindu tradition, we worship many forms of God in our temple. Some of these are named Krishna, Rama, Ganesha, and Hanuman.

We are also learning how to sing, dance, and speak the way the people of our culture do. Kahu learned to speak the Maori language and dance the tribal dances. I am learning to read, write, and speak Hindi, the native Indian language. I am also learning classical Indian dance called Kathak. Kahu and I both go to a special school to learn these cultural things. We both have choral recitals, dance recitals, special places to worship God, and animals that are sacred to our people. The whale is the Maori tribe’s sacred animal, while the cow is sacred to Hindus.

It is obvious that Kahu really loves her culture and the ways of her people. Despite her love and respect for her grandfather, she shows courage, strength, and determination when she saves the whale and the tribe. She has taught me that no matter who is against you, you should always keep trying for the things that you want. That is something everyone should remember.

The Whale Rider Nayna Shah

Nayna Shah, 9
Morris Plains, New Jersey

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