Whale Rider by Witi Ihimaera is a novel about a Maori tribe who used to hunt whales until an ancestor of the tribe experienced something that made him change the tribes ways to protect the giants of the sea instead.
The story is told by the son of the current leader following his niece Kahu from birth and through her childhood, being rejected by her grandfather due to the now broken lineage of his Maori tribe, who he believes should be led by a male.
It’s about the change in a child from the perspective of her family members. It’s about the undying love and adoration she had for a man who tried not to care, and the gift that she has been given to communicate with the whales she was destined to protect.
I immediately fell in love with this book. Admittedly, I had seen the film first years ago, I just knew that I had to give the book a go. WOW! Whales are one of my favourite animals and to read about the heritage as well as the Maori legend of how whales came to be known to humans. I was enthralled, finding the narrative which was not by the main character but by a secondary character. I found it to be different and wonderful.
It is a short novel, yet all of the action was well spaced out, fitting a lifetime into the story.
The story and words of the Maori tribes legends are also spaced out through the novel to keep reminding the reader of what Kahu is destined to do. She is to lead her people just like her ancestor had done.
This is a beautiful book, a true homage to the Maori and life in New Zealand. The perfect book for all ages, for children in school it is a chance to learn about different cultures, which in this day and age, it is important for us to be aware of other cultures and way of life more so than our own. Only then will our own culture grow with time.
Highly recommendable to anyone who loves to read about legends, myths and family relations. A fantastic way to explain a culture.