Niki Caro’s acclaimed film, Whale Rider, is an aspiring story of a young Maori girl’s pursuit to prove herself to her grandfather and to undertake her destiny as the tribal leader. Her grandfather, Chief of Whangara has old-fashioned attitudes that blind him to his granddaughter’s potential as his successor. It is only when tragedy strikes that Pai can prove to her grandfather that her community’s link with the spiritual world of the Maori lives on. The emphasis on Maori culture and myth allow us to classify Whale Rider as a film that shows the protagonist, Pai, being unable "go home" and to understand it through a connection between myth, culture, and family.
Myth comes from the Greek word mythos, meaning story or word, which explains the way the world is. In this context, Whale Rider depicts the world of the Maorians. Maorians myth is of Paikea, an ancestor of the Maori community who rode into Aotearoa on the back of a whale. According to the traditional myth, when the ancient ancestor Paikea was lost at sea and fell from his canoe, he rode on a whale which brought him to a coastal area of New Zealand. This myth is narrated by Pai in the beginning of the film:
My name is Paikea Apirana. And I come from a long line of chiefs, stretching all the way back to Hawaiki, where our ancient ones are, the ones that first heard the land crying and sent a man. His name was also Paikea and I am his most recent descendant… But I was not the leader my grandfather was expecting. And by being born, I broke the line back to the ancient ones. . . . “In the old days, the land felt a great emptiness. It was waiting: waiting to be filled up; waiting for someone to love it; waiting for a leader. And he came on the back of a whale—a man to lead a new people. Our ancestor, Paikea. But now we were waiting for the firstborn of the new generation, for the descendant of the whale rider, for the boy who would be chief (Hughe).
Ever since then, each of the first-born males amongst Paikea's descendants have in turn become tribal leader. In the present day, the Maori community has lost its way again. They have less or no distinctive pride and heritage. The death of the next male descendant of Paikea, and the departure of his father Parourangi for Europe, leaves Koro hopeless over the survival of the old ways. As Bernary Beck states, “The power that is respected by the Maori people is a fierce, masculine, warrior power” (Beck). As the myth indicates, the new successor has to be a male. Thus, it creates an obstacle for Pai who cannot assume her destiny to be the true descendant.
It has been in the Maori tradition that the chiefs are always males, however; there are no good candidates in the community. Although Pai believes she could become the next successor, tradition dictates that the in every generation the chief’s eldest son is the one to take over his role also knows as primogeniture. This makes Pai’s father the next in line; however, the death of his wife...