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Whale Rider

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on 7 February 2014

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Transcript of Whale Rider

Whale Rider
The film incorporated aspects of both spirituality and reality. It showed its’ viewers both sides of the life of an Indigenous community. On the one hand, we saw many images of “the whale”, tied to Paikea in a way that perhaps she didn’t even understand at the beginning. It was this link to the group’s spirituality, which made viewers see that something more was at work here. The whale, and Paikea’s connection to it, made her stay with her people instead of leaving with her father for Germany. Traditions were also brought into the picture, while Koro was struggling to find a new leader for his people. This showed the difficulty of keeping a balance between traditions and survival in everyday life.
Interpretation and Perception of
Whale Rider
Intent of
Whale Rider
Thoughts, Feelings, Challenges
Whale Rider
and our lived reality and prior knowledge
Prezi By:
Alicja Surzyn,
Emily Sutton,
Neil Wiltshire
& Peter Yang
The movie follows the story of Paikea Apirana, from the Maori tribe in New Zealand, who wants to be the new leader for her people. However, her grandfather and the current leader, Koro insists the role is reserved for a male. Pai loves her land, culture and traditions - she even refuses to leave to go live with her father in Germany. While Koro tries to train young boys to become future leaders, it is clear that Pai is the natural leader but her grandfather shuns her; meanwhile, the boys he are training fail him. In a desperate moment, Koro and Pai separately call to the Ancient ones, the whales for help. The result is that a pod of whales end up beached on the shore, dying. The village works non-stop to rescue the whales and push them back into the ocean to no avail. When it seems all is lost, Pai climbs onto the biggest whale, which belongs to the legendary Paikea (Pai’s namesake). Pai, sitting on the largest whale, coaxes it back into the ocean where it is followed by the rest of the pod. Pai almost dies saving the whales but luckily upon her recovery, becomes the future leader of her people, reconciled with her grandfather who accepts the change in tradition by letting a female become a leader.
Themes in the
Whale Rider
Whale Rider
focuses on the Maori people of
New Zealand, however, the themes of the movie
are universal. They are:
Traditions and Change
Changing Role of Women
Connections to Nature
Equality in schools

Understanding children's different circumstances and experiences that affect their learning in the classroom

Breaking down stereotypes or misconceptions of aboriginal practices and perspectives
Theme of Equality in Schools
Understanding children's different circumstances and experiences that affect their learning in the classroom
As teachers, we need to strive to individualize students by getting a full understanding of their situation. The main character, came from a very difficult upbringing where she was constantly abandoned and unaccepted by the people that she loved. She was able to persevere through her difficulties and overcome them, but as educators we are responsible to get an understanding of each student in order to break any pre-biases or misconceptions based on what we see in the classroom. This is where assessment for and as of learning can be helpful tools to use, in order for the teacher to gain a better understanding of the students learning capabilities.
Watching this movie, it helps to break any stereotypes or misconceptions of aboriginal practices and perspectives. On the surface, I’ve made my own misconceptions on the meaning behind the symbolic meanings of statues, chants etc. In order to break these misconceptions I think it’s important to integrate a better understanding and respect for the aboriginal practices within schools.
The grandfather's unwillingness to accept his own son and unwillingness to accept his granddaughter because of her gender.

I think this is an example of how the definition of what is considered strong, smart or courageous is misplaced. Every student may not show their abilities within the classroom the same way, and as teachers we need to be flexible on our teaching methods and strategies to help students discover their own strengths. We shouldn’t define students based on assessment of learning, or summative assessments but rather integrate formative assessments to gain a better understanding of student’s strengths and abilities.
One of the last scenes in the movie is a dance performed by students but instead of a traditional aboriginal dance, a western square dance was integrated. I think as much as there are misconceptions of the aboriginal culture, there can also be misconceptions and pre-biases of the western culture also. I think it’s just as important for both cultures to be integrated into the school system in order for there to be mutual respect.
While watching this movie, many emotions were invoked. First, was the virtual disappearance of Paikea’s father (Porourangi) after the death of his wife and male twin during child birth. This, while understandably a difficult time for the family, was something that made me feel uncomfortable as a mother myself. Later in the movie, Paikea’s friend also had a father that appeared to come and go as he pleased.
Another feeling that emerged as I watched the movie, and perhaps the most challenging for me, was the way Paikea’s grandfather (Koro) treated and resented her for being female. After what I have learned about indigenous people thus far, I was surprised and saddened to realize that, for people who claim to be so spiritual, sexism would even enter their beliefs. Paikea felt many affects of this during the movie, and was repressed from being involved in many of the traditions of her people, simply because she was a girl. This was both difficult and frustrating to watch, as there comes a point where you realize that she is the born leader.
Another fact that was uncomfortable to witness during the film was the open lifestyle of some of the Whangara tribe, including drug and alcohol abuse, and specifically because it took place in front of the children. This is not something that is considered a social norm in North America, but was something that no one took notice of, or acted like was out of the ordinary, in the film.
The most emotional time for me during the Whale Rider was when Paikea actually rode the whale. After telling her grandfather (Papa) that it was okay, the whale submerged and I thought that was the end. Just when Paikea came out as the true leader of the tribe, she was lost. This turned out not to be the case, and Koro was made to see her for what she really was-the new leader of the Whangara people. While she admitted to not being the prophet we heard of, she was capable of bringing her people back together as a unified front.
Issues Concerning Aboriginal Practices and Perspectives
On the other hand, we were shown some of the living conditions on the reserve. Many adults appeared unemployed, and spent their days abusing substances, and hanging out with family and friends. No one was shown leaving the reserve except for Porourangi, and he seemed to be almost shunned for this behaviour. It was also evident that the Whangara people stayed together. They had community events throughout the film that showed the bond between these people. They loved and supported one another.
As mentioned earlier, the patriarchal nature of the tribe, exposed their resistance to change. The long-standing line of chiefs (always the first-born male), made me realize that this belief may be true for many tribes. I have never seen an image of a female chief, though I understand them to play other important roles. In this sense, I felt that the film was quite an accurate representation of what is being experienced on reserves today- a struggle to survive within the world’s fast-paced economy, while keeping traditions and legends alive.
I think the director’s intention with this film is to encourage the viewer to explore and reflect on several issues including:

present-day life for the Maori and their struggle to exist in a contemporary world that is full of change and conformity by sharing one twelve-year-old girl’s journey to become the leader of her community

the importance of one’s connection with nature and the spirit world and how belief or disbelief in these elements affects the ability to adapt to change

traditional gender roles and expectations within the community

social expectations in the Maori traditional ways of life, and the challenges faced by traditional communities who have lost their sense of identity

The beached whales, and the reaction to their plight by Pai, Koro, and the community become a metaphor for the themes of the film:

Just as the whales will perish if they cannot be moved off the beach, the community will perish if they cannot move on in the world

Just like Koro’s attempts to move the whales fails, his leadership has failed the community

It is only with Pai’s embrace of her traditions and willingness to sacrifice herself that we see the whales begin to move forward

As the community witnesses her astride the whale like their legendary descendant Pakea, they have an awakening which allows them to reconnect with their communal identity, which in turn slowly allows them to move forward again

Pai’s belief in the whale shows that respect for nature and the spirit world does not go unrewarded
The director seems to be sending many messages in this film:

It can be a struggle to adapt to the modern-day world while still embracing and respecting the traditional ways but it can be done with faith in one’s self and in one’s tradition and beliefs

Belief and respect for the spirit world and nature is paramount to the survival and sense of community identity and should not be forgotten or written off

All it takes is one person who believes in themselves and their community to be a catalyst for change

By acknowledging and embracing the truths of our past, we can use them to help us to shape a new future
What did you think about the integrity of this film and why?

I felt that this film had integrity. It felt authentic and real. It avoided the typical Hollywood clichés that can be associated with movies that have a feminist element or a supernatural/spiritual flavour to them. There is no drive to make Pai a superhero who magically fixes all of the challenges faced by her community. The characters and the storyline feel genuine – the viewer is able to connect to the film through the realism of the characters, and the issues they are facing, as many of the issues explored in the film are universal – such as trying to find one’s identity in an ever changing world
Final Thoughts
How has your thinking changed?

The film triggered a newfound appreciation for the spirit world and nature, and how they connect to one’s sense of identity, and can be an integral part of this identity

The film reminds us of the importance of connection both within our family and our community, and the importance of connection to the past, and how they all can serve as an anchor while we sail the choppy waters of the world

Breaking down stereotypes or misconceptions of aboriginal practices and perspectives
Director: Niki Caro Based on the book by Witi Ihimaera
There was a portion of the movie where a new school was built but strictly for the boys. Girls were not allowed within the school and were denied the opportunity to gain knowledge of the traditional ways of their people. This signifies regardless of reasoning, whether it be gender, race, educational stream; children should be given equal opportunity and access to knowledge. Children should not be marginalized or segregated for these reasons and learning and ability should not be categorized by these standards.
Leadership – The driving force of the plot is Koro’s search for a new leader for his people, the Maori who live in a small coastal village in New Zealand. He feels like “the darkness” has set in and because his chosen son is too grief stricken with the death of his wife and son to be the new leader, Koro looks elsewhere. However, leadership is also explored through Pai who takes responsibility for the culture and traditions of her people.

Traditions and Change – The tradition of Koro’s people is that a male is always the leader. Koro’s strong belief in tradition is questioned since Pai, a female, is clearly the best choice for the future leader.

Pride – Koro is very proud of his culture and traditions but this pride blinds him from seeing the truth. This is explored extensively in his relationship with Pai and his wife.

Changing Role of Women – This movie certainly points to the possibility of maintaining tradition and cultural beliefs while adjusting these standards and making room for women to make a positive contribution.

Connections to Nature – Pai’s strong connection to her land and the sea reaches an epitome when she makes a connection with the whale, leading it back to the ocean and encouraging the rest of the pod to return as well.

How does the director convey the intent of the film through the people in the movie?
The director conveys the intent of the film through the use of realistic characters, the setting, and with visual upon visual which are metaphors for the issues to be explored.

The film is set in is small, quiet village, with many members, such as Pai’s father leaving to find greener pastures

Everywhere are reminders of the past, such as Pai’s father’s waka, which lies abandoned and incomplete, yet there are no symbols of the present – it is like the town has been caught in a time warp where they do not look to the past nor look to the future

The Film’s Message
Do films like Whale Rider serve to promote discussion and dialogue on the important issues facing traditional communities in today's world?
How do the issues raised in Whale Rider connect to Aboriginal concerns in Canada?

Are films the most appropriate media to use to illustrate issues facing traditional communities? What are some of the potential advantages and drawbacks of using films?

How can this movie translate to a lesson in our classroom?

Reflection Questions
Full transcript