September 6, 2005

Whale RiderUneasy lies the head that wears the crown. A Maori tribe must contend with the distinctly non-traditional concept of having a female leader when young Pai’s (Keisha Castle-Hughes) twin brother — the intended heir to the throne — dies during childbirth. Now, she must struggle to prove herself. Stars Rawiri Paratene, Vicky Haughton, Cliff Curtis and Grant Roa. Written and directed by Niki Caro.
Starring: Keisha Castle-Hughes, Rawiri Paratene, More
Director: Niki Caro

If you’ve already seen the whale Rider, you’ll know that Paka, the ruling Chief of the Maori people, strictly adheres to Maori traditions as they were passed down to him. That’s my focus for this installment of The Seekers Guide To Great Movies. It is within Paka’s example of rigidly held truths that we can find an answer to the question I always ask!

What’s in it for us?

When is being right, actually wrong? What happens when when we do what Paka does, hold knowledge rigidly as TRUTH? In Paka’s case, the result is an inability to see any other possibilities. Other possibilities exist all the time, all around him, but his mind, firmly made up, can’t perceive them. Paka’s traditions say his son, grandson or suitable a tribal male will replace him when he can no longer lead his people. His son rejects the responsibility in favor of more modern pursuits. His grandson dies at birth, only a granddaughter survives and the young men of the tribe fail to measure up to the task!
Translation of Paka’s belief: The first absolute requirement of a leader is manhood. We watch how it blinds him. How it actually creates his problem!

A reoccurring metaphor in this film comes in the form of rope. It first appears in a scene where Pai is watching Paka trying to start an outboard motor.
Paka: “You see that there, look at it closely, what do you see?”
Pai: “Lots of little bits of rope all twisted together.”
Paka: “That’s right, weave together the threads of Pikea, so that our line remains strong.” “Each one of those threads is one of your ancestors.” “All joined together and strong.” “All the way back to that whale of yours.”

Paka then tries to start the outboard motor with the rope and it breaks. Referring to the rope that he just used to describe that strength is found in threads twisted together, Paka says: “Useless.” (Casting it aside.) “I will fetch another.”  While he is gone, Pai figures out how to weave the rope back together making it strong enough, once again, for her to start the motor!  Pai yells: “Paka it’s working Paka it’s working!” Paka returns at the sound of her outcry. His response to her accomplishment is, β€œI don’t want you to do that again.” β€œIt’s dangerous.”

  • He could have recognized her accomplishment.
  • He could have praised her.
  • He could have done any number of things that allowed for a better overall outcome.
  • He could have recognized this hint at an answer to his problem!

But his perspective doesn’t allow him to see any of those other choices!

What’s in it for us?
Based upon his perspective of the way things should be, Paka is right!  But being right in his way results in a shared experience that is emotionally negative. An experience defined by anger, frustration, disappointment and even fear.

For Paka,

Paka's Choices

What other way could he choose to be right?
What beliefs might allow him to be right and feel right?

Other Possibilities

What principles can be employed if we find ourselves in Paka’s situation?

Responsibility: My perspective is in conflict with what is right now.  I’m assigning negative emotions as a result.
Initiative: What result do I really want and need right now? How else could I look at this moment? What’s right about it, right now?

Haven’t seen Whale Rider? See it, and witness whole tribe transformed with one man’s paradigm shift!  What’s beautiful in film, is infinitely more so in our lives!
…….How are you right?

Remember you are what you watch!


Our strength as a people does not lie in the dogmatic adherence to the traditions represented in the knowledge handed down by elders and leaders.  Instead it lies in the adherence of the community as a whole to the principles upon which that knowledge and those traditions were based.

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