Thursday, February 05, 2004


We watched the movie Whalerider in Church and Society class this week. The class consists of about 30 people, including Maori, Pacific Island and Indian.

Question: What are the issues facing contemporary Maori society?

Issues identified included;

a) a male dominated leadership model :: however it was noted that not all Maori tribes and marae (meeting houses) have the same attitudes as are depicted on Whale Rider. Many tribes have had female chiefs and female heroines. It is possible that the male dominated leadership model depicted in Whale Rider is a result of European migration (thanks Church, thanks colonial Britain)

b) the priority of land and place in developing identity :: this is not just a Maori issue, it is a theme that runs through much migrant literature. How indeed, to sing the Lord’s song in a strange land (whether that be a new country or a new postmodern cultural context)?

c) the loss of tradition :: Whale Rider offers two approaches to the future, back to the past as the grandfather sets up a school to teach the old ways. Or walking forward aware of the past, as a new woman leader, leading in a collegial style, sits amid the waka (the canoe). And so the old with the new is taken into the future.

d) the importance of “remaking the ropes” :: of finding ways to connect the disconnected with their past. We reflected on the potential role of the church in this, helping groups relink with their histories and memories.

e) leadership issues :: where does new Maori leadership emerge from? Is it from parliament and through elected legislature? Is it tribal, past down through chiefly lineage? Is it charismatic, with the rise of gifted orators and visionaries?

f) how to choose leadership :: (a related issue, but worth noting separately). Who can choose who the leaders should be, who are the deciding “members”? (I was exploring a similar issue in relation to church on my blog last week).

g) the delight of female subversion :: a way of being in a male dominated world that deconstructed male power and subverted male leadership

h) and more theologically, the Christology of Whale Rider :: images of death/resurrection and a empowering from below, a downunder Christology.

Posted by steve at 10:20 PM


  1. I like the issues identified here Steve. I only recently managed to see the film and really enjoyed it – I can’t think of any other film that portrayed that ‘female subversion’ quite so well.

    Comment by barky — February 6, 2004 @ 8:52 am

  2. great post steve. I saw the film on saturday and was really moved by it, and the points you draw out are very insightful – cheers.

    I think for me it was interesting that the film seemed to avoid the issue of gender from a western perspective (ie women being equal to men using feminist philosphical thought). It seemed, and I could be comepletely misreading this as a brit, that the way that Pai becomes accepted by her grandfather, and ultimately the community, is through the traditional ways (although I am unclear wether this tribe did not allow women leaders or just her grandfather). She seems to be on a spiritual journey rather than a quest of equality, and the transcendent seems to figure heavily in both her own self-recognition of leadership, as well as her grandfathers (and before him her grandmothers). I could be wrong, but that my two pennys worth.

    Comment by gareth — February 6, 2004 @ 12:16 pm

  3. watched the film tonight and loved it! wow….

    Comment by jonnybaker — February 8, 2004 @ 11:17 am

  4. A little girl in our community came out of the kids’ room one morning wearing a costume-jewelry tiara. One of us asked, “Wow, are you the queen?” With a defiant twinkle in her sweet brown eyes, she planted her hands on her hips and shouted, “No. I’m the GIRL KING!”

    Pai and Nanny are both incredibly strong women, but what’s fascinating to me is the harmony of Nanny’s ‘subversion’ playing over the melody of Pai’s overt defiance. It becomes evident that each woman does, in fact, rule the tribe… in her own way.

    That notion lends itself to another question you brought up: how are “leaders” “chosen”? (Point of clarification: strong leaders are not necessarily those in positions of authority; likewise, those elected to positions of authority are not necessarily strong leaders. As the saying goes, “He who leadeth where none followeth merely taketh a walk.”)
    After a couple years together as a church family, our community decided to ordain elders. When it happened, there was no politicking and no posturing, because we did not ask anyone to nominate those who they wanted to become elders in our community. We called upon each other to recognize those among us who already were.
    So, if Koro had been watching all the youth with that in mind, he’d have found his chief a lot sooner. But I suppose that would have made for a much shorter (and far less interesting) movie.

    So, that’s *my* two penny’s worth. But, of course, these are merely the opinions of a girl…


    Comment by Mrs. Nygren (who would rather have influence than power) — February 13, 2004 @ 1:03 pm

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