Different styles of narration that infuse ‘The Whale Rider’ with life

Witi Ihimaera’s novel, The Whale Rider, is unique as it has twin plots running side by side. The two narratives, the whales and Kahu’s birth, are told by an omniscient and first-person narrator respectively. PHOTO| FILE| NATION MEDIA GROUP

What you need to know:

  • This novel also has many styles — similes, metaphors, vivid description, dialogue, flashback, irony, symbolism and many others. This article will focus on dialogue and flashback and includes an essay on the success of women in a patriarchal society.
  • From these dialogues, Koro is seen as chauvinistic because he constantly rejects Kahu since she is a girl. He keeps saying that he will have nothing to do with her.
  • In The Whale Rider, men are given precedence over women. This society elevates men who are considered sacred while the womenfolk are downtrodden.
  • The Saturday Nation is publishing reviews and analyses of the KSCE English set books. This will help students, especially Form Four candidates as they prepare for their exams.

Witi Ihimaera’s novel, The Whale Rider, is unique as it has twin plots running side by side. The two narratives, the whales and Kahu’s birth, are told by an omniscient and first-person narrator respectively. The all-seeing eye gives the story of the whales and sometimes the plot is developed by the thoughts of the bull whale while Rawiri, Kahu’s uncle, tells Kahu’s story.

This novel also has many styles — similes, metaphors, vivid description, dialogue, flashback, irony, symbolism and many others. This article will focus on dialogue and flashback and includes an essay on the success of women in a patriarchal society.

Dialogue is employed extensively in this novel to develop the plot and to reveal themes as well as character traits. When Porourangi calls to say that they would like to name the baby Kahu, a fight ensues. Koro accuses Nani of being behind the choice of the name (page14).

‘“I know your tricks,” Koro Apirana said. “You’ve been talking to Porourangi behind my back, egging him on.”
….Nani Flowers said; “Who, me?” She fluttered her eyelids at the old man.’

A third call comes to inform them that Rehua was still in intensive care and she wanted Kahu’s afterbirth, including the birth cord, to be buried on the Marae in the village (pg. 16). Koro Apirana opposes the idea. When Nani reminds him that Kahu is of Porourangi’s blood and that she had a right for her birth cord to be buried there, he says; “Then you do it.” (page 16).

From these dialogues, Koro is seen as chauvinistic because he constantly rejects Kahu since she is a girl. He keeps saying that he will have nothing to do with her. Nani also is portrayed as a champion of women’s rights and she always protects Kahu from Koro’s constant growling.

When the ancient bull whale strands itself, Nani wants the women to be allowed to help.

“…Nani Flowers had said in a huff. ‘What about us women! We’ve got hands to help.’

…His voice was firm as he told her, ‘I don’t want you to interfere, Flowers. You know as well as I do that this is sacred work.’”

Nani remarks about changing herself into a woman just like Muriwai. He tells her to also keep Kahu away as she was of no use to him. This reveals the theme of gender discrimination.

When Kahu is hospitalised after riding the sacred whale, Nani and Koro converse. Koro is remorseful for how he had treated Kahu.

“‘You are right, dear, I’ve been no good.’

‘Always telling Kahu she’s no use because she’s a girl. Always growling at her. Growl, growl, growl.’”

There are other dialogues in the novel, too. For instance between Rawiri and Kahu, Rawiri and Nani and Rawiri and Porourangi.
Flashback has been used in the novel to give background information related to the present happenings. It especially focuses on man’s co-existence with nature before losing the power of interlock.

“‘In the old days, in the years that have gone before us, the land and the sea felt a great emptiness, a yearning. The mountains were like a stairway to heaven, and the lush green rainforest was a rippling cloak of many colours’...” (page 2).

Through this flashback, the genealogy of the Maori is established. Their ancestor, Kahutia Te Rangi, came riding a whale and he hurls spears.

The journey is described as magnificent and only one spear refuses to leave his hand. He utters a prayer for this spear to flower when the people are troubled and it is most needed.

In another flashback, Nani talks about her ancestor Muriwai who saves a canoe and saves her people. She constantly refers to the disconcertment of Koro, who always says that her female side was too strong.

‘“...even though she had married into our tribe, she always made constant reference to her ancestor, Muriwai, who had come to New Zealand on the Maataatua canoe...”’

When her chieftainly brothers went to investigate the land, the sea began to rise and the current carried the canoe so close to the rocks that Muriwai knew all on board would perish. She chanted special prayers to the gods to open the way for her to take charge. She called out to the crew and ordered them to start paddling quickly and the canoe was saved in the nick of time. (page 15).

This heroic act inspires Nani to be assertive and she is always dominating Koro when it comes to family issues. She later tells Kahu, after she comes to from her coma, “Koro argues but I win”.

Kahu’s birth, naming and development are revealed through a flashback. Through Rawiri’s eyes, we see her love for Koro, his constant rejection, her determination to win his love and prove that she is the heir apparent and the final fulfilment of her destiny as the whale rider.

Rawiri’s exploits abroad are captured in a flashback. From his flight to Sydney, to his stay with Jeff in his apartment to accompanying Jeff to Papua New Guinea to his flight back home. Various themes are covered such as modernity, change and racism.

When it comes to styles, this is just a tip of the iceberg. Learners are encouraged to explore the rest of the styles in detail with the help of their teachers.

ESSAY QUESTION:

‘Even in a patriarchal society, women can succeed.’ Discuss.

In The Whale Rider, men are given precedence over women. This society elevates men who are considered sacred while the womenfolk are downtrodden. Their tradition and practices enhance the discrimination of women, though occasionally women have asserted themselves and succeeded.
Muriwai’s success in a patriarchal society is evident. When her chieftainly brothers went to investigate the land, the sea began to rise and the current carried the canoe so close to the rocks that Muriwai knew all on board would perish. She chanted special prayers to the gods to give her the right and open the way for her to take charge. ‘Now I shall make myself a man.’ She called out to the crew and ordered them to start paddling quickly, and the canoe was saved just in time. (page 15).’

Mihi also succeeded in a patriarchal society. She was a big chief, yet she was expected to remain submissive to men as tradition demanded.

Tradition dictated that women should not stand up and speak on sacred ground. Mihi had stood on sacred ground at Rotorua. ‘Sit down,’ a chief had yelled, enraged. She asserted her seniority saying, ‘No you sit down! I am a senior line to yours!’ Then Mihi turned her back to him, bent over, lifted her petticoats, and said, ‘Anyway, here is the place where you come from!’ she reminded them that all men are born of women.’

Nani also through her assertive nature succeeds in this society. She is seen as a constant champion of women’s rights. When Porourangi calls to say that Rehua wants to name the child Kahutia Te Rangi after their ancestor, she supports them to the chagrin of Koro. When Kahu’s afterbirth and birth cord are brought by plane to Gisborne, Koro does not want anything to do with them. Nani with the help of the boys bury the afterbirth and the birth cord in the sight of Kahutia Te Rangi. Nani also shields Kahu from Koro’s constant growling.

Kahu’s success is witnessed from various illustrations. She is named after the Maori ancestor, Kahutia Te Rangi, which is a man’s name. Even though Koro opposes it, she lives up to the name.

Kahu bites on Koro’s big toe, which was a test for leadership. This was a mark of fate, which signalled her as the next leader, despite Koro chasing her away (page 118).

Kahu is interested in the instructional classes offered by Koro to the boys despite Koro sending her away. When she joins school, she is the leader of her cultural group and her speech emerges the best, written in Maori language.
In the end, it is evident that Kahu had the power of interlock. This makes her succeed in returning the whales to the sea.
From the above illustrations, it is evident that women can succeed in a patriarchal society.

The writer is a teacher at Alliance Girls High School. [email protected]

SAMPLE QUESTIONS

students can test their knowledge of set book texts
1. ‘Some traditional practices are retrogressive.’ Write an essay to show the validity of this statement drawing your illustrations from Margaret Ogola’s The River and the Source.
2. ‘Mark Sigu’s family is portrayed as an ideal one’ Write an essay to justify this statement in reference to Margaret Ogola’s The River and the Source.

The Saturday Nation is publishing reviews and analyses of the KSCE English set books. This will help students, especially Form Four candidates as they prepare for their exams. The series is aimed at helping them to develop a critical and analytical approach to reading. Students will also be exposed to questions that will prepare them to better appreciate literature. These will also guide them on how to approach the questions. The best answers will be published in the Saturday Nation. Send correspondence to [email protected]

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