Blinded by Obduracy: An Analysis of Koro Apirana in Witi Ihimaera’s, The Whale Rider
Whether or not the character, Koro Apirana, truly knows that his granddaughter is the chosen chief is debatable, in Witi Ihimaera’s novel, The Whale Rider. When the facts are lain out, it seems as though Koro did know that his granddaughter was the chosen one, but he tried to deny the fact because he wished to have a male, instead of a female, to follow in his footsteps. Had Koro viewed his new grandchild for the person she was instead of for her gender, he may have been able to avoid some unwanted grief.
This tale of a grandfather whose stubbornness ultimately sets him up for more angst than necessary is almost comical, if it were not tragic. Had the evidence been any clearer, it would have come right up and bit him in the butt, or rather, toe. In order to pass the powers from one leader to the next, the Maori tradition calls for the successor to bite the big toe of the current chief. As the current chief, Koro Apirana, was explaining this tradition to the boys of the village, when his granddaughter, Kahu, crawled under his table and bit his big toe. At that, Koro became vehemently angry and threw Kahu out of the room. This event shows Koro at one of his angriest moments. Most likely, the reason behind his anger was that he was afraid that this female child would be the next leader. This went against everything he was ever taught about men being the only ones in powerful positions. The idea of a female in charge went against tradition; it was a foreign idea, and one that he was not prepared to handle. Instead of entertaining the idea, he stopped the thought in its tracks. This was not the first time Kahu showed signs of fulfilling the legacy. Koro was just blind to it, or so he was pretending to be.
It all started with her name. Kahu shares the name with the last great chief, Ko Kahutia Te Rangi ko Paikea, the whale rider. Even as a baby, the only food that Kahu liked was Maori food. She excelled in every challenge her school offered and was at the top of her class. When in the movie theater, Kahu was calmed by the sound of the whales in the film. When the whales cried, Kahu became visibly upset. From time to time, Kahu would make whale noises when she was on the beach, perfectly mimicking their sounds. When Koro gave the boys the challenge of finding the stone he dropped into the ocean, they were unable to find it. When Kahu heard about this test, she immediately swam far underwater, holding her breath for an immense amount of time, and found the stone. It even seemed as though she had communicated with the dolphins to help her find it.
Despite all of these signs, Koro Apirana still refused to accept that a woman could be the chief of the Maori people. Though Kahu never gave her grandpa Koro anything but love, she never received it in return. She did everything she could to make him proud, yet he turned away from her. In her final attempt to prove herself to her grandfather, she risked sacrificing her own life, in order to help out her grandfather who never showed her any love. At that point, Koro finally admitted to knowing that Kahu was the chosen one all along, but he had not wanted to believe it. He remorsefully said, “I should have known she was the one…ever since that time when she was a baby and bit my toe” (Ihimaera 145). Unfortunately, it was too late for apologies; Kahu was already gone, far beneath the ocean’s waters, on the back of the tattooed whale.
Eventually, and miraculously, the tattooed whale decided to let Kahu go, and she was able to come back to her family, where she was finally met with some of the love she so desperately needed and long-deserved. Koro immediately felt ashamed of how he had treated her. He could have avoided the entire, painful situation had he been a kind grandfather and an open-minded leader. Instead he was too set in his ways to see what was right. In the end, his stubbornness led to his downfall, and almost cost him the life of his first-born grandchild, the true leader of the Maori people, and successor to the chief.
Haumi e, hui e, taiki e.
Let it be done.
Ihimaera, Witi. The Whale Rider. Orlando: Harcourt, 2003. Print.