Monday, January 19, 2009

Whale Rider - Signifiers

Matt Bochniak
First Signifiers
Prof. Ellis
Reflection: Jan. 20 (lit. analysis)

The “Whale Rider” by Ihimaera is a tale of power struggle and change within the Maori, a tribe in New Zealand. Kahu is inline to be the next chief of the Maori. The issue with Kahu, who is named after the tribe’s first chief, is that she would be the first female chief of the Maori. Throughout the entire book, Koro Apirana (the current chief) and Nanny Flowers (Koro Apirana’s wife) constantly lovingly argue with each other about Kahu being the future tribe’s leader. This is a constant power struggle between these two colorful characters. Koro Apirana is against having a female chief. Nanny Flowers, who came from another tribe that had female chiefs, is always trying to get Koro Apirana to see that the Maori only having male chiefs is just not right. She believes that Kahu will make a great chief of the Maori.

The story comes to the climate after a whale is beached and the tribe has to get the whale back into the ocean. Koro Apirana didn’t want any help from the women of the tribe, but after a rope broke in the rescue effort, Koro Apirana had to let the women of the Maori help save this whale. When all looks lost and whale was going to die, Kahu swims out to the whale and talks to him. She gets on the whales back, and remarkably the whale gets free and gets out to the ocean while Kahu is riding the whale like the chief she is named after.

Nature, and being one with nature, is another major signifier of the Maori. In Wendt’s “Pacific Maps and Fiction”, Wendt speaks on how the people from the Pacific Islands has a connection to their environment. The Whakapapa/Gafa, whom the Maori is apart of, believes that their environment defines them and feeds their imagination.

I see a connection with the “Whale Rider” book’s theme of change with what is going on right now in Baltimore and the USA. Our country is having our first African-American President, just as Kahu is going to be the first female chief of her tribe.

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