The narrator of the novel is Rawiri Apirana, a man from the very traditional Maori tribe of Whangra, New Zealand. It depicts a story about his brother’s daughter, his niece, Kahu and her importance of her teachings to her people. Shortly after her birth, her mother dies and her maternal grandparents take her to live on another island. Every summer she returns to visit her father and paternal great-grandparents. Even as a young child, her devotion and admiration for her great-grandfather, Koro Apirana, also called Paka, is evident. However, he does not feel the same devotion and adoration because she is a girl, making her useless. The novel weaves a tale telling of the whale’s importance as well as Kahu’s place in the tribe.
The same is true in the movie, though she is named after the ancestor of her tribe, Paikea. There are several differences; one being Paikea is born with a twin brother and is raised by her paternal grandparents.
Though the differences are noticeable, both the novel and the movie portray how a young girl overcomes the prejudice her tribe harbors toward girls in order to become the heroin her tribe so desperately needs. I recommend that everyone read the book and watch the movie, but keep an open mind and ignore the differences.
By Amanda C.