Book review: Whale Rider

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Title: Whale Rider
Author: Witi Ihimaera
Genre: Fiction, novel
Publisher: Penguin Books, Australia
Year of Publication: 1987
Cover price: open
Number of pages: 192
Reviewer: Onana Victor

Does your society suffer gender bias? Well, Witi seems to wittily explore this in the aforementioned text through the life a young ‘neglected’ girl, Kahu. The story is told through a male character Kahu’s uncle Rawiri.
The Whale Rider is a novel of a kind, so pure and true that it makes one believe impossibility is non existent.

The story, Whale Rider hugely explores on interesting cultural settings of the Maori people residing in New Zealand. A lead tattooed bull whale (sea creature) and a family of whales form characters that seem to exhibit a strange and unusual relationship with the human world. A bond thus so exist so closely between the two worlds, the sea and land. However, at some point this once healthy relationship, earlier coined by the old generation is shaken and grows stale but has to be restored for nature to continue serving both fairly.

That Whangara people, led by the Maori tribe’s chief Koro Apirana are faced with cultural inheritance challenge, he is so aged and according to the dictates should be succeeded by a heir, a male great grandchild. Unfortunately, the only one existing to pertake of the task is a girl, Kahu,. daughter to Koro’s eldest grandson Porourangi to whom his lineage a heir must come. The birth of Kahu as his first born child bitterly disappoints. The search for a suitable successor roughly combs through Koro’s mind. culturally, it’s a big no for a girl.

Nanny Flowers, Koro Apirana’s wife is pitted in a deep conflict with her husband over this, she has an unusual soft spot for Kahu and so does Rawiri. With the support of the two, Kahu , a girl stubbornly named after community’s ancestral hero Kahutia Terangi, by her mother Rehua, has to do all it takes to win over the love of her great grand father, Koro. At a tender age, Kahu is already so sharply sensitive enough to the discrimination and negligence Koro takes her through but destiny seems to push her into overcoming all.

Boys are then to be trained as the search for a suitable heir begins. An alternative heir is sought as Kahu is just but a ‘good-for-nothing’ girl, to take over chieftaincy, atleast according to Koro. Kahu’s determination sees her sneak numerously in to take the lesson with the culturally approved male children, boys. A suitable boy must drive back protesting mother whale into the sea. Magically, Kahu carries the day in all and challenges the myth of gender imbalance, she becomes the whale rider.

Other characters in the noble text include, The Old Mother Whale, Bernard, Jeff, Jeff’s father and mother, Reremoana, Billy all artistically brought together to enliven the themes of Sacredness of Nature and Man’s Corruption of it, Modernity vs tradition, racism & Cultural Identity, love, female role models vs. misogyny amongst others.

The society in the whale rider which is so typical of all human societies out there seem to so insensitively and unconsciously kill the girl child self realization through cultural gender imbalances that, Witi Ihimaera pricks so unapologetically.

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