How characterisation builds up the story in ‘The Whale Rider’ – Daily Nation


The Whale Rider by Witi Ihimaera is a mythical story told alongside Kahu’s story. It is rich in characters, some being human and the others being whales.

A character analysis is done by what the characters do and say, what others say about them, what the character’s feelings and aspirations are and how the characters react towards situations and events. Character analysis also goes beyond what and who a character is to cover the role the character plays in the book.

A character’s role can be to influence events and other characters or develop the plot by influencing themes.

Kahu is the protagonist of the story and Koro Apirana is the antagonist while, in the whale tale, the ancient bull whale is the protagonist. There are other characters that help build the main characters by how they interact with them and from the way, they affect events in the novel. The whales are personified and they have feelings we can identify with. They are also godlike as they traverse time from the ancient period to the present time.

This article will focus on Koro Apirana, Kahu, and Nani Flowers and give an essay question from The River and the Source.
Kahu is the first born daughter to Porourangi and his wife Rehua. She is named after the leader of the tribe, and she is the destined whale rider.
Kahu is intelligent and knowledgeable. At school, she is a leader of her cultural group. During the school break-up ceremony, she is part of the performance. She also reads her speech in Maori, which had won the East Coast primary schools contest. She recites the genealogy of their tribe and says that her aim was to fulfil the wishes of her great-grandfather and of the tribe.

She is determined and brave. She is determined to get the knowledge being taught to the boys by her Koro. She constantly eavesdrops on the lessons to the consternation of Koro Apirana, who would growl at her to go away. Quick as a flash, Kahu’s head would bob away but slowly she could be back like a spiny sea urchin.

Her bravery is seen when she retrieves the carved stone, after the boys failed the test. She later approaches the whale, mounts it and leads it seaward, saving the tribe.

Kahu is also caring and loyal. She has great love for her Koro and, even though the love is not reciprocated, she does not give up. At two years, when Kahu comes to visit, she wanted to know where her great-grandfather was. When they go to pick him up, she ran at him with a loud, infectious joy in her voice. Even though she is rebuffed severally, her love for him is unshakeable.
Koro Apirana is the husband of Nani Flowers and great-grandfather to Kahu. He is also referred to as old Paka. He is a hereditary chief seeking the next heir.

Koro is conservative and conventional. He is determined to ensure that the Maori traditions are adhered to. According to the traditions of the Maori people, leadership is hereditary — passed on from the eldest son to the next. This makes him to oppose Kahu as the heir. He does not reconcile himself to the fact that a girl can be a leader. He is against Kahu being named after their leader, which he believes, is belittling their ancestor. He also ensures that it is only boys who attend the cultural classes. He keeps growling at Kahu whenever she is eavesdropping.

Since men are considered sacred in this community, he makes sure that they are the only ones who participate in fishing and sea activities.

He is also respectable and determined. The boys and Rawiri have a grudging admiration for him and their pet name for him was ‘Super Maori.’ They also referred to him as the Maori Man of Steel. He was determined to get an heir from the other royal families and nothing was going to stop him.

Nani Flowers is the wife of Koro Apirana and great-grandmother of Kahu. Nani is intelligent and determined. She encourages Rehua and Porourangi in their decision to name the child Kahu after the tribe’s ancestor. She buries Kahu’s birth cord and afterbirth with the help of the boys after Koro says he will have nothing to do with it. She knew that through the burying of the birth cord, the child will be forever connected to her people. She is determined to protect Kahu from Koro’s harsh treatment. She constantly argues with him and tells Kahu that one day they will fix the old Paka. She tells Kahu that Koro argues and she wins.

She is caring and emotional. When she receives the call about the birth of Kahu, she is overcome with emotion. Her eyes become cross-eyed as they always did whenever she is overcome with love. She loves Kahu and shields her from Koro’s harassment. She comes to her defence each time Koro growls at her. Her fear for Kahu’s life makes her faint and she is hospitalised after Kahu’s departure with the whales. When she comes to, she asks after Kahu and, with tears streaming down her cheeks, wants her bed moved next to her. She wanted to hold her and talk to her.

To conclude, learners are encouraged to explore the rest of the characters who could not be tackled here due to limitation of space.

Essay question:

Discuss the theme of tradition in the River and the Source by Margaret Ogola.

Tradition is the fabric that holds a society together. The stronger the fabric the better the members relate with each other. In the River and the Source, there are many traditions that have been passed on from generation to generation. This includes child naming, marriage, leadership, and religion.

Child naming and initiation is done according to tradition. In this community, child naming and initiation is done according to the seasons, after a dead ancestor and to bring attention to some aspect of a child’s personality. Chief Odero Gogni of Yimbo’s first daughter was named Adoyo after the season where the leaves of growing sorghum were the height of a toddling child. She was named Obanda after her great uncle recently dead who sent a dream to the father and grandmother of the child. The third name was Akelo after her grandmother’s sister. The child was also named Akoko (the noisy one) for she had an extremely powerful set of lungs.

Akoko was initiated into the rigours of adulthood through the nak ceremony. This was done by the removal of six lower teeth. This was done with due pomp for, being the first born daughter, nothing could be done for any of her sisters before it was done for her.

Leadership in this community is done traditionally. It is hereditary from father to first born son. A chief ruled the community. His main job was to lead the council of jodongo in their arbitration and their final word was law. He was also a sort of a priest who led the whole community in sacrifice and libation on public worshipping days. The chief also solved disputes and led his people into war. When Akoko’s two sons die, the chiefdom descended on the shoulders of the younger son, Otieno Kembo, for the first time in seven generations. This is because chik did not allow a baby to rule unless he was on the threshold of marriage.

Religion also depicts aspects of tradition. The community in this novel believes in Were, god of the eye of the rising sun. They prayed and made sacrifices and poured libation to him. They also believe in ancestral spirits.

Marriage also depicts traditions. A spy is sent to check out a potential bride. A bride had no choice in a marriage partner as this was left to the father and brothers. Akoko’s father and bothers turned away 13 suitors before accepting the suit of Owuor Kembo. Bride price was paid to a bride’s father and, in Akoko’s case, Owuor Kembo paid 30 head of cattle without demur.

Polygamy was also allowed as we see Otieno marrying one shiftless wife after another. They also practice wife inheritance. When Nyabera’s husband dies, Ogoma Kwach, a second cousin to the dead man, inherits her.

To sum, the illustrations above form part of the aspects of tradition in this community.

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

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.

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