The Whale Rider

The Whale Rider Summary and Analysis of Part 3: Autumn, Chapters 12-13


So Rawiri returns to Whangara. His reception is a bit less joyful than he hoped because Nanny is too busy being upset with him to graciously welcome. But all this is offset by the great happiness of Kahu when she comes home to greet her uncle. He finds her a maturing young beautiful child. She happily recounts to him that she has been helping Nanny with her work. He also learns that she is the star of her culture group, that she has a great love for the Maori songs and dances and that she and Nanny have been keeping a special surprise for Rawiri.

Nanny and she have been fixing and polishing Rawiri’s old motorbike. Kahu innocently explains that she and Nanny came to clean it every week, and that sometimes Nanny would cry while cleaning, but then forced herself to stop so as not to cause rust on the machine. Upon hearing this, Rawiri himself cries. Later on, Porourangi comes over to welcome him and present his second daughter, baby Putiputi. As expected, everyone but Koro is happy with this newest member of the family. Later on, when everyone gathers in the house for celebrations, Porourangi asks Rawiri if it is good to be home, which he replies to in the affirmative. When Rawiri asks in response what has been happening, his brother replies that it has been much the same—Koro is as grumpy as ever and his search for a successor after Porourangi continue on. As he explains this, Kahu goes up to Koro and puts her hand in his. He pushes her away and then she drifts away.

As Rawiri settles back in, he comes to realize that Koro’s search for a successor has become an obsession. The old man is desperate to find someone to whom he can convey this legacy, desperate to do this right; however, Rawiri notes that, in his pursuit of this goal, he disdained Kahu. The poor girl though would not give up; she is so stubbornly set on his love that Nanny and others suggest it is as if she is deluded. Nanny Flowers compares her behavior to that of her distant relative Mihi Kotukutuku, a female chief who was famous for defying attempts by other chieftains to undercut her own leadership due to her gender. At the same time, Nanny and the others reflect on the beautiful character of Kahu: her innocence and purity from any sort of envy or guile.

Rawiri gets a job in a lumberyard and he quickly adapts to his new routine. Ever morning he would beep as he passed Porourangi’s house to wake up Kahu for school and then on his way back from work in the afternoon he would often find Kahu waiting for him on the road, ready to welcome her dear uncle home but not before flooding him with all her excited chatter. In one such occasion, Kahu remarks that Koro would like her if she were a boy, and that sometimes she wishes she was so. As the school year comes to an end, Kahu sends out invitations for her school’s cultural closing ceremony. She invites all her family with fancy and sincere cards.

When the time comes for the ceremony, Rawiri accompanies Nanny to the venue. Nanny has chosen to wear a somewhat strange looking dress and Rawiri does not have the heart to tell her so. At the venue, when Kahu sees the two of them she beams and comes over and makes a few modifications to Nanny’s outfit. Rawiri notes that by that action the outfit goes from looking strange to looking just right. Then as the hall crowds up, Kahu brings Nanny to her seat, right next to another seat marked “Reserved.” Kahu notes that that seat is for Koro when he comes.

Upon hearing this, Nanny expresses dismay—she knows that Koro has no plans at all of coming to see his great-granddaughter’s performance. But neither she nor Porourangi has the heart to tell this to Kahu. Instead, Kahu begins with the performances. She is the leader of her group, directing them with a firm hand and strong voice. She is determined to make her family proud. However, with every section that passed, Kahu’s bright face grew more and more dim. Rawiri understood that Kahu had realized Koro was not coming, and as he observed her vulnerability his heart was given over completely in empathy and sadness for her.

There is yet more in the performance though—a concluding act—which is a recitation delivered in the Maori tongue. The school has selected Kahu to present her essay, and so he stands up before the audience and begins to recite her essay. This speech is an expression of love for her Koro. She emphasizes that love and the respect she has on top of that. She also talks about her genealogy and tradition, and the gratitude she had for being born in Whangara. She concludes by saying that her desire is to serve her grandfather and her tribe. At the end of her speech, Rawiri stands up and does a dance of celebration to lighten her mood; next, the boys join in and pretty soon they all are swept away in their emotion. The chapter ends when later that night as Nanny apologizes to Kahu for Koro’s absence, Kahu excuses him by saying that it is not his fault that she is a girl.

Part 2 concludes two weeks after the ceremony, when Koro takes some of his brightest male pupils to the shores to give them a test. After they take a boat out to sea, Koro takes a carved stone and casts it into the water. Then he tells the boys that one of the must retrieve it. Though several of them attempt to do so, none of them is able. Whether out of inability or cowardice, not one of the boys is able to reach the sea floor. Koro, defeated, tells the boys they did their best, and returns them to shore. When he returned home all he did was weep. When Kahu finds out what has happened, she decides to retrieve the stone herself. When she next finds herself on the sea with Rawiri and Nanny, they go to the spot where the stone sunk and Kahu, without any word of warning, dives into the sea. Nanny and Rawiri panic but for no reason; they watch in a state of shock as Kahu seems to communicate with some dolphins, who then help her to retrieve the stone. She then returns to the boat as if nothing had happened, and Nanny—still shocked—warns Rawiri not to breathe a word of this to Koro yet, as he is not ready to hear this.


This section in particular offers a deeper characterization of the three main characters of the story: Nanny, Kahu and Koro. Each character receives more depth and the relationship between all three develops. As for Nanny, the reader sees a developing of her character as a softhearted, loving motherly figure. In previous sections Ihimaera already portrayed the love she shows for her offspring. This love even has physical manifestations on her body, in that her eyes become cross-eyed out of the strain of love within her. However, in this section Ihimaera gives another incident with touching imagery meant to elicit deep sympathy for Nanny and an emotional connection with her. This incident is that of her polishing Rawiri’s motorcycle. Here was a man who left behind his family for years just to see the world. Nanny does not respond to this adventure with disdain or question why, but she just accepts this. He is gone for years and yet her thoughts for him persist so much so that, as Kahu explains, everyday Nanny would come and take care of this motorcycle, polishing it and repairing it. This is a love manifested and maintained over not just a matter of weeks or months but years, every day. And then sometimes she would miss him so much that she would almost cry over the motorcycle, but would hold those tears back, out of fear of rusting the machine that her grandson loves. That was the level of her love for him, and her capacity for love in general.

This unbroken, generous love finds a parallel in Kahu’s unrelenting love for Koro. As stubborn as he in showing disdain for her, she is as stubborn to show love for him. A battle of wills takes place between them who will win: disdain or love. This characterization emphasizes her goodness of character and her heroic struggle to earn the pleasure of her great-grandfather. She is pure in character. She responds to his disdain with patience, forgiveness and determination. As Rawiri notes, she has no anger in her, she has no guile She is not some wily manipulator but instead she is the pure hero. This characterization is meant to elicit a strong sympathy for Kahu. She is the clear hero of the text and the role model. Her being an innocent, enthusiastic chatty little girl only more elicits sympathy from the reader. This sympathy plays a huge role in a scene discussed later in this analysis: that of the symposium. But most important of all, she expresses no jealousy for others around her, especially those who are shown Koro’s attention: the males of the tribe.

In this discussion of Koro’s treatment towards the boys, Ihimaera also provides a deeper characterization of Koro. The reader learns from Rawiri and Porourangi that the drive for finding the boy who can take the chieftaincy has become an obsession for Koro. He is doing all he can for the safety of his tribe as he sees it, to the point where he is becoming utterly obsessed with it. That this is a selfless act is clear, because the whole premise is that he will die soon and he has to pass on this knowledge solely for the benefit of future generations. In this way we get a greater characterization of Koro as not the cruel man but the tragic hero, as mentioned in earlier analysis. We also see another trait in this section that indicates a gentler nature. After he takes the boy out and tests them to see which can dive and retrieve the stone, none of the boys are able to do so. Despite his obsession with finding a successor and despite the pressing need he feels, he does not burst out against the boys in anger over their failure. They could not manage to do something that he himself could do when he was their age. But despite this, he treats them with patience and gentleness, not berating them. This indicates that although with Kahu he is quite cruel, he does have a softer side and overall is a gentle man. In this way, Koro’s characterization is given greater depth, and his moral position is complicated because we cannot now see him as the main antagonist of the story; he is not of villainous character, he is like a tragic hero, as mentioned earlier.

The events of the section culminate in two momentous events. The first event is the cultural festival. Through this event, the author gives demonstrates the real impact of the dynamic developing between the three main characters. Here the reader experiences the results of Koro’s disdain for Kahu, and the product of Kahu’s unrelenting love for her great-grandfather and his way of life and the effect of Nanny’s love for her people. This one scene brings all these conflicting tensions to a front. Having established empathy for Kahu and Nanny throughout this, Ihimaera uses that leverage of emotional support in an effort to draw out emotion in one of the saddest scenes of the book. When we see the reserved seat for Koro, we see a young girl full of hope and determination to win her fatherly figure’s caring love. When she stands and calls out her fellows and leads them through the cultural motions we see that she has been rehearsing this so long. We see the effort she has put into this. When we see her emotionally wilting like a flower as the one wanted person does not come, we see the vulnerability of this little figure and in her vulnerability she becomes so utterly human, so close to us that it is almost impossible not to empathize with her. That is the power of this scene. At the same time we see the irony of this tragedy, which is that Kahu makes such a good leader, leading the other girls, knowing just right what to do, bravely giving a speech in the Maori tongue, eliciting love and empathy from the audience. All of these things are good qualities of a leader, yet Koro cannot see any of that. That is the underlying theme of the whole story: Koro’s willed blindness to the huge good of this girl, seemly because she is a girl. This scene expresses all of that.

The second momentous incident is a foreshadowing of the future. It is when Kahu seems to be talking to dolphins. When the author has Kahu seemingly in conversation with dolphins, the fantastical elements of the story slowly creep up again. This fantastical element is contrasted with the gritty realism of Rawiri’s time in Papua New Guinea and the racism he faces there. This scene reminds the reader that this story is still a story of fantasy. This girl has something momentous about her, something supernatural. The story, at the end, still seems to be a story meant for children, and these fantastical elements emphasize that categorization.