Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Ignorance, Love, and Cultural Survival: A Look on the Inner Thoughts of Koro Apirana

I would like to extrapolate on the point I stated in my first paper. Previously, I noted that Ihimaera uses the contrasting cultural philosophies projected by Koro Apirana and Nanny Flowers to demonstrate that through the reconciliation of these two ways, new truths emerge. This idea is important because toward the end of the novel, Koro Apirana is changed because of a dramatic realization – embodied in the form of Kahu riding the ancient bull whale – and he is forced to reconcile his traditional beliefs with Kahu’s female identity. Although Koro may realize this a little too late, in the end he ultimately demonstrates the need to cooperate for the sake of the Maori people.

As the novel advances, Koro is still determined to find a male heir for the Maori chief lineage. At this point, one would think that Koro must be in strict denial of Kahu’s destiny to become a Maori chieftess. (Personally, I believe that Koro uses his ignorance as a coping mechanism, which explains for his constant neglect of Kahu.) His search continues until the day when the whales begin to beach themselves on the shoreline, wanting to commit suicide. Koro sees this as a sign – on page 110, Ihimaera writes, “‘This is a sign to us,’ Koro Apirana said again” (110) – and recognizes that if the whales perish, so will the Maori.

The situation eventually climaxes when the ancient bull whale beaches itself upon Whangara. It is here when something sparks within Koro, starting with his speech at the meetinghouse. When he is preaching the ways of the Maori’s oneness with nature, he claims, “‘It is a reminder of the oneness…It is the birth cord joining the past and present, reality and fantasy. It is both’” (117). Ihimaera carefully places this monologue at this point in the novel to signify the beginning of Koro’s change of heart. While it may not be directly stated, it is obviously implied that Kahu is the true heir.

The final phase of Koro’s realization occurs after Kahu is returned from the whales to fulfill her destiny and “claim the place for her people in the world” (146). In the hospital scene, Koro finally sees this new truth. Disgusted with his old ways, Koro seizes his chance to start anew and immediately finds love for Kahu. Ihimaera writes, “The old man cradled Kahu in his arms…‘You’re the best great-grandchild in the whole wide world,’ he said. ‘Boy or girl, it doesn’t matter’” (149). In this closing section of Whale Rider, the reader is finally able to take comfort in Koro’s reconciliation of Kahu’s inherent ability for the sake of his family and the Maori people.

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