The bull whale is an ancient whale, about 65 feet long. It is leading its herd in search of safer waters, but at the same time it struggles to come to terms with its deep love for the ancient whale rider, now long dead, who once had been its dearest companion. The whale has to balance between current responsibilities as leader of the herd on one hand, and nostalgia for past times on the other.
The Whale Rider
The revered figure of Whangara's Maori people and Kahu's direct ancestor, the whale rider develops an extremely close bond with a whale.
Kahu is the chief protagonist of the story. She is a young girl with a strong and determined temperament and a soft and innocent heart. Her deepest wish is to please her great-grandfather, Koro--a struggle which spans the length of the book--and she remains dedicated to her Maori heritage and culture.
Koro is the current leader of the Maori people of Whangara. A man so old that he now has great-grandchildren, Koro is weighed down with the task of finding the right successors to his chieftaincy. He needs to find individuals who will be able to carry the burden of leadership and navigate the Maori people through the chaotic waters of modernity. His chief worry is that he will not be able to pass on the legacy and heritage that he learned so many years ago from his elders.
Rawiri is the primary narrator of the story. He is the grandson of Koro and thus the uncle of Kahu. In the time of the story he is in his early twenties. A young man who lives in the present but maintains a deep connection to his past heritage, Rawiri is both an active member of a biker gang and a devoted student of Maori language and culture.
The eldest grandson of Koro and the elder brother of Rawiri, Porourangi is the chosen successor for his generation. Because of his status as eldest, he is the default choice for leadership after Koro passes away. As a result, Koro spends a lot of time training him and bringing him along on trips pertaining to Maori legal and social issues. He is the father of Kahu, thus making Kahu the eldest child of the successor -- a fact which eventually forces Koro to question his opposition to female leadership in the group.
Nanny is the wife of Koro and the motherly figure for most of the other main characters. She is a stubborn, determined, and brave women not afraid to stand up to her husband. Nanny also has a deep love and softness for offspring. Nanny is connected in lineage to Muriwai, a brave, independent ancestress, famous for her strength.
The late mother of Kahu and wife of Porourangi, Rehua has the same connection to Muriwai as Nanny Flowers, and demonstrates her own sort of independence by naming her daughter after a male hero of the Whangara people.
Billy is a close friend of Rawiri's and a member of the same biker gang. He is sent with Rawiri to tie the rope around the ancient whale's tail in their effort to rescue the whale.
Reremoana is Rawiri's cousin living in Australia, she has--according to Rawiri--changed her name and appearance and has assimilated into the big city culture of Sydney. She asks Rawiri not to tell their grandparents about her current condition and how her identity has changed.
Jeff is a once-close friend of Rawiri's; they meet in Australia, where they share an apartment and become good friends. Jeff then invites Rawiri to accompany him as he returns to help his parents on their plantation in Papua New Guinea. Rawiri accompanies him but eventually leaves due to the increasingly apparent racism of Rawiri's family (especially coming from his mother). While it is never explicitly mentioned, Jeff and his parents are presumably of European origin and are not natives of Papua New Guinea.
Jeff's mother lives on a plantation in Papua New Guinea with her husband. She demonstrates racist tendencies when Rawiri comes to help them maintain their plantation.
A straightforward man who seems to have acquired his wealth through hard work and determination. He ran his plantation until being struck by a debilitating injury, and now relies on his son to take care of their land.
Rawiri's cousin living in Papua New Guinea. He is accidentally killed by Jeff in a car accident. His death prompts Rawiri to accept the tensions between him and Jeff's family, pushing him to leave Papua New Guinea and return to Whangara.
The Old Mother Whale
The oldest of the matrons of the whale herd, this whale is the bull whale's dearest companion. She bears a deep love for her mate and thus is concerned about his growing desire to return to the islands of his youth. While she does love him, she is not blind to his faults, and recognizes that his nostalgia can lead the herd into trouble and can lead him to commit significant mistakes.
The Whale Rider Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for The Whale Rider is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.