I am always on the look-out for films with positive messages, and especially when they give kids insights to another country or culture. The New Zealand film “Whale Rider” tells the story of 12-year old Pai, a Maori girl whose ancestor Paikea was the whale rider. While Pai lives in present day Whangara, New Zealand with her grandparents, Maori tradition maintains that the leadership should only be inherited by males. Koro, her grandfather, is the current chief and is adamant that she cannot lead her people because she is female. While he searches for a new leader, attempting fruitlessly to train young boys in the village, determined Pai cries out to the whale to come to her assistance. A pod of majestic whales become beached as they seem to answer her plea and their impending death symbolize the plight of the Maori people, as their traditions are lost. The entire community unites to help save these sacred creatures and finally Pai fulfills her destiny in a courageous display of wisdom and leadership that forever changes the lives of the whales and her people.
Based on the book written by Witi Ihimaera, the film is a beautiful display of Maori culture. I would recommend this film to children ages 10+, though my 7 year olds did enjoy it. See the CommonSenseMedia review here, and watch the preview:
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In traditional Maori beliefs, animals, plants, or certain landforms are spiritually connected to specific groups of people. In Whale Rider, the whale is the ancient symbol of Ngati Konohi (this particular community). Have your children look for other cultural elements including:
- traditional gender roles
Click here to download an EXCELLENT educational packet from the official New Zealand web site. The Resource Kit has been produced by Fiona Murray, Winifred Jackson and Brian Finch of Massey University College of Education and it offers suggestions for teachers, and examination of themes etc.
There is also an excellent interdisciplinary curriculum guide for teachers (with 10 lessons) for purchase at Journeys in Film.
Journeys in Film, a project of The Norman Lear Center at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, harnesses the power of film to enrich the educational experience of today’s students. We develop film-based teaching guides across school subjects that help educators prepare students to live and work as informed, media-literate and globally competent citizens.