Whale Rider (2002)

Today is the day I am first exposed to New Zealand culture, specifically, the Māori culture. The Maori are indigenous tribe of people in New Zealand. They are like the Orang Asli in Malaysia. To introduce us to this culture, Dr. Goh showed us certain clips of a movie called “Once Were Warriors” (1994), prior to Whale Rider.

I was traumatized.

Okay, I am exaggerating here but it did leave a mark… an unpleasant one.

“Once Were Warriors” was so violent!  The husband was beating his wife as though she was his worst enemy! Though I know this is just an act but what made such an impact was the fact that this is a realistic portrayal of domestic abuse!  And that was not the worst part! Don’t get me wrong, it is a great movie to watch… I am merely expressing my disbelief at the fact that such things actually do exist in real life. A reminder to me at how fortunate I am…

That aside, Whale Rider is the focal point of this review, so I shall now move on to that.

Whale Rider (2002) Trailer


Being born into Chinese culture, I understand the concept behind the whole boys-are-the-alpha-male thing. Boys are taught to lead, whereas girls are taught to stay at home. Though most Chinese are ‘modernized’ now, but there are still many who think this way. Similarly, Whale Rider portrays how a young Maori girl, Paikea, struggles to earn the respect of her grandfather, Koro.

The current Maori leader Koro (aka Paikea's grandfather)

Initially Paikea was born with her twin brother. Unfortunately, her twin brother died, along with her mother… and thus, Koro was upset…no, he was DEVASTATED at the fact that the baby girl survived instead of the boy. Koro was hoping for a grandson to be the next leader after him, as he was the descendent of the original Maori leader who first arrived on the back of a whale. Koro strongly believed that only a male could take over this leadership position, and therefore Paikea is NOT it.

A young Maori girl, Paikea

From this film (and other experiences) I observed that the burden of many current leaders is to train up and prepare the next leader to take over their position. I, too, sense the urgency and desperation of Koro as he decided to train any young Maori boys available to be the next leader, after his own son, Porourangi, refused to take over this leadership position. On the other hand, you have Paikea, trying hard to prove to her grandfather that she was more capable than he thought she was.  I emphasize with her, as I too face some limitations within my community for “being a girl”. It really is unfair…isn’t it?

There is one thing which I must mention: I admire the LOVE that Paikea has for her grandfather, despite of ALL the discouragements and other negative responses that he gave her.

Paikea & Koro (Granddaughter & Grandfather)

Ultimately, what I learned from this film is that one shouldn’t underestimate a person’s capabilities based on gender, or even race! I loved the fact that Paikea was determined and persevered till the end. In the same way, I shouldn’t give up just because someone look down on me because of my height!!


For more information about the Maori culture, do visit the following website:


1 Comment

One thought on “Whale Rider (2002)

  1. Good choice. Great movie. I’m not sure why I’m thinking this at the moment, but I believe you would also enjoy My Name is Khan.

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