May 18, 2022By Christine Pasalo Norland

Whale Rider: 20th Anniversary

Our May 2022 Word Search celebrates the 20th anniversary of Whale Rider, a coming-of-age film set in the Māori community of Whāngārā, New Zealand. Included in the Word Search are terms related to the film, the novel it's adapted from, and Māori ancestors and traditions that are referenced in both works.


Originally released in 2002, Whale Rider is an intergenerational story of family, community, and acceptance that is centered on Paikea "Pai" Apirana, a 12-year-old Māori girl of the Ngati Kanohi tribe of Whangara. She is the only survivor of her birth—her twin brother and mother died the night she was born—and her father Porourangi named her Paikea, the tribe's sacred ancestor, to honor her mother's dying wish.

"My name is Paikea Apirana, and I come from a long line of chiefs," she says at the start of a speech she gives during a school cultural night.

Paikea is the granddaughter of Koro, the chief of the tribe who worries that their community is becoming untethered and that their traditions will be forgotten if he does not begin to mentor a new leader. Paikea feels an innate call to be that leader, but while Koro helped raise her and loves her, he refuses to accept the idea that she can succeed him. Men have led for generations. Paikea is a girl.

"When she was born, that was when everything went wrong for us," says Koro to his wife and Paikea's grandmother Nanny Flowers.

Koro's and Nanny Flowers' first-born son Porourangi doesn't want to become the next chief, and Rawiri, their second-born son, is considered too careless to learn. So, Koro decides to find and train a new leader amongst the young boys in the community.

"This will be a sacred school of learning. You'll be taught in all of the qualities of a chief," says Koro at the inaugural meeting, as seen in the trailer below.

Paikea includes herself to Koro's frustration. When Koro excludes then banishes her from the school, she turns to Nanny Flowers, Uncle Rawiri, and others for support, eventually inspiring Koro and their fractured community to come together to find a new way forward.

Starring Keisha Castle-Hughes as Paikea, Rawiri Paratene as Koro, Cliff Curtis as Porourangi, Vicky Haughton as Nanny Flowers, and Grant Roa as Unclie Rawiri. Directed by Niki Caro. Produced by New Zealand-based South Pacific Pictures. Adapted from the novel of the same name by Witi Ihimaera. Available to stream for free on Vudu, and to rent on Amazon Prime, YouTube, and Apple TV. Rated PG-13.


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