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Whale Rider
Niki Caros
Starring: Keisha Castle-Hughes,
   Rawiri Paratene
Length: 101 minutes
Rated: PG13
Studio: Columbia TriStar

Below the oceanís surface, a powerful whale glides gracefully through the water in a large circular pattern, while distant, almost inaudible sounds suggest it is listening carefully for a message yet unsent. And with this intense opening scene from the movie, it becomes instantly clear that you are already deeply involved in a unique and touching story.

Whale Rider is a film about following your inner voice. It is also a film about leadership. Set in a small New Zealand coastal village, it tells the story of the Maori people and the legend of how their ancestor, Paikea, arrived on the island riding on the back of a whale. And how, since that time, a male heir has been born within the reigning chiefís lifetime who would become their next leader.

Koro, the current and elderly chief, has two sons, Porourangi and Rawini, neither of whom wish to step into the chiefís role. In the opening scene, Porourangiís wife dies in childbirth along with a twin boy, but also while giving birth to a twin girl. To honor their ancestor, Porourangi names the girl Paikea. Upon hearing of the twin boyís death Koro is filled with bitter disappointment, and then rage when he learns the other twin is a girl; one who could never become successor.

This film examines traditions and, in this case, a grandfatherís insistence on keeping the tradition pure, which means that he ignores Paikea, her skills, her desires, her calling, simply because she is female. While he loves her, his love for her tends to be quite harsh, and he does not see any possibilities for her to be the next leader. Thankfully, her grandmother offers quiet support and tender love. The film examines the obstacles Paikea faced in wanting to pursue her calling. Her tenacity and perseverance in the face of these obstacles show up as true examples of believing in self, forging ahead despite tremendous resistance from people who donít understand, and finding resources to keep going.

One day, Paikea prays to the whales asking for help with her grandfather. Several days later, numerous whales are found beached and dying on the shore. The villagersí repeated attempts to save them fail. For Koro, they are seen as a sign of his failure to produce a successor, and the death of centuries-long traditions that he has believed in.

Eventually the villagers quit from exhaustion, ready to face the inevitable. Paikea, however, understands the solution, and, despite her grandfatherís rejection, she moves into action, ignoring her own safety to save her people. She commits what we would call an ultimate act of leadership; she was ready to die to save her people.

The story of Paikeaís struggle to honor and follow her inner voice and not be swayed by others is deeply compelling. If you have ever found yourself feeling alone for acknowledging your beliefs or honoring what you know to be right, watch this movie. We found Paikeaís inner wisdom and strength to be both courageous and inspiring.

Self-Observation Questions

  1. Notice, for the next two weeks, how you declare your intentions and what you stand for. How do you feel? What do you notice about yourself when you do this? Where is your energy?
  2. Notice what happens when you stand for something that no one else seems to support. What do you feel? What do you think? What do you do?
  3. For the next two weeks, notice where you are tenacious and notice where you give up, get resigned. What circumstances help you to be tenacious? What is present when you give up?

Click here for a coaching practice related to the theme of this movie.





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