‘Kahu, a member of the Māori tribe of Whangara, New Zealand, fights to prove her love, her leadership, and her destiny. Her people claim descent from Kahutia Te Rangi, the legendary “whale rider.” In every generation since Kahutia, a male heir has inherited the title of chief. But now there is no male heir, and the aging chief is desperate to find a successor. Kahu is his only great-grandchild and tradition has no use for a girl. But when hundreds of whales beach themselves and threaten the future of the Māori tribe, it is Kahu who saves the tribe when she reveals that she has the whale rider’s ancient gift of communicating with whales.’
The Whale Rider by Witi Ihimaera
(Audiobook Narrator: Jay Laga’aia)
Published: May 28th 2012 by Bolinda Audio
Thanks again to Aentee of Read at Midnight for this audiobook recommendation. Jay Laga’aia is a fantastic narrator. The oral storytelling tradition of the Māori people is a strong thread though out The Whale Rider. Laga’aia’s narration draws on this tradition alongside the music in the intervals within the audiobook. I hope more readers engage with both the audiobook and the film adaptation. They are different stories but the threads of family and independence are strong in each one.
For example, in the original text, there are chapters that give insights into the whale’s actual thoughts around the future of the tribe and the story of their ancestor. The scene of the beached whales is heartbreaking to read but is crucial to this aspect. A strong sense of environmental awareness, conservation and co-existence between the tribe and the whales is touched upon at various points. Kahu’s grandfather, Koro Apirana also observes that the Western perspective splits the world into binaries. These binaries don’t acknowledge the nuances of co-existence as a part of their traditions.
The Whale Rider is also filtered through Kahu’s relative’s perspectives instead of Kahu’s perspective (which is more central in the film adaptation) but both approaches work in highlighting the challenges that affect her right to lead. Even though there are many male perspectives, there is a strong female elder presence embodied by Granny flowers, the other tribes and the elders in the pod of whales. I loved the support they provide for Kahu. Koro Apirana tends to idealise Kahu, his grand daughter, which also prevents him from seeing her as a whole rounded character. Kahu eventually gains some recognition from him as a leader. Though the film adaptation highlights this change in perception a bit more than the original text.
On the other hand, the original text is able to dive into a few more perspectives. For example, there is also a great reflection on Kahu’s uncle’s experience as Māori diaspora in both Australia and Papua New Guinea in a few chapters before returning to Kahu’s story. The Whale Rider is filled immersive writing that draws on close connections between Māori mythology and family. I loved the focus on harmony with the environment, home and identity. The author’s note around how his daughter inspired this story was also great to read.
*Check out the Pasifika Spotlight on the author, Witi Ihimaera via Anjulie.
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