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Rawiri plays an important role in the novel which helped unfolding the events, ranging from minor to significant ones. He relates the events in the ‘Whale Rider’ as the role of the narrator, allowing the readers to form judgements and learn about things such as the Maori way of life and the characters through his eyes. He also give us his insights as he highlights themes and issues mentioned, like racial discrimination.
Besides that, he is the one who sees the many signs of Kahu’s destiny as the leader of the tribe, piecing up a complete picture of her eventual rise as the leader.
Additionally, he is her guardian, always protecting and looking out for her. With his carefree personality, he often provides comic relief especially in times of tension. As the narrator, Rawiri relates the events through his personal experience and conversations. This allows us to have a deeper understanding of what had happened that lead to the progress of the story.
For example, we know what the relationship between Koro and Nanny is unusual yet endearing as they often quarrel in a chidish manner, like during the time Nanny rowed out to sea to get him back when he was out sulking about Kahu’s birth. We also know that Nanny’s headstrong personality is partially influenced by the fact that her ancestor, Muriwai, inspires her to champion the rights of women. All these enable us to know more about the characters and thus understand the reasons behind certain actions these characters make.
He also highlights the theme of gender discrimination through Koro’s steadfast opposition to Kahu as he ‘virtually hurled’ her out of the meetinghouse, a place not for females, and told her to ‘go away’ many times, not even considering her as a potential leader even though she displays many outstanding qualities like leadership skills. During his time at Papua New Guinea, he also highlighted the issue of racial discrimination as he himself with the other natives are discriminated and marginalised.
Rawiri is referred to as ‘home dogs and strays’ by Clara and that Jeff’s family did not care to even send Bernard to the hospital when they knocked him down because he is ‘only a native’. Through his insights, we get to know the harsh reality of class distinctions that is existent among different races, leading to ostracism. Besides that, Rawiri witnesses the signs foreshadowing Kahu’s future as the leader of the Maori tribe. Kahu is multi-talented, is the ‘leader of the culture group’ and ‘love to sing the Maori songs’ and even gave her speech at the end-of-year ceremony entirely in Maori.
At such a young age, Kahu unusually displays many outstanding qualities that is required for a leader, and this suggest to the readers that she has what it takes and will eventually take up the leadership position as well. She ‘cried’ during the whale-beaching movie, ‘not even a lollipop would satisfy her’ and even ‘make a mewling sound at her throat’ when she witnessed the scene of whale-hunting on the beach. This shows that she is able to empathise and relate to the whales and there is a sense of communion between them, an ability that not even Koro possessed.
He also saw her retrieving the stone from the deep waters, when all the other boys could not even do it. His narration of these events tells us that Kahu is unique and extraordinary, her astounding feats outshines the rest and thus hints to us that Kahu will do something great and lead her tribe. In addition, Rawiri is also Kahu’s guardian and protector as he is always seen to be trying his best to ensure her safety and well-being. During the whale-beaching movie, he felt ‘protective’ ‘like a father’ and felt that should look after her till the world ended’.
Rawiri regards himself as a fatherly figure to her and feels the need to look after her, protecting her from all the rain and storm. Also, when Kahu went out to sea in an attempt to save the whales, ‘instantly I (he) ran through the waves’, ‘plunged into the sea’ and ‘yelled to her, a despairing cry’. Even though he was ‘frightened by the heavy seas’, he bravely ploughs on for her as he does not want to lose Kahu and felt a strong responsibility to get her back to safety, even if he ‘would just have to go down this whale’s throat and pull Kahu right out’.
This shows the extent of his guardianship of Kahu as he takes pains to protect this mentally strong yet fragile girl of eight. Lastly, he also provides humour in different moments in the novel, especially in times of tension. For example, when Nanny felt indignant and unfair regarding the exclusion of women during school sessions, Rawiri managed to lighten the tense atmosphere through his comical phone conversation with Cheryl and bringing Kahu to the movies instead, with the girls ‘assessing whether I (he) had now become marrying material’.
By inserting comic relief, there is a variation in the mood throughout the novel and thus the readers do not feel perpetually a sense of pressure and tension, and are able to feel relaxed. Also, the way Nanny wanted to look her best despite her failure as she wears a hat that ‘must have looked wonderful in the 1930s’ and ‘added a bit of this and a bit of that until it looked just like something out of her vegetable garden’ is a comic element which enables us to find her as an endearing character even though she is old-fashioned. By providing humour, it lightens the overall atmosphere and learn more about the characters.
In conclusion, Rawiri narrates the events in the novel through his point of view and highlights certain themes and issues presented by the author. He is also he guardian of Kahu and takes care of her, assuming a fatherly position. Furthermore, he is the one who consistently sees the signs of Kahu’s fate to rise up as the next leader of the tribe. Lastly, he also provides comic relief which help to lighten the mood of the novel, especially during times of tension. He is definitely an important character which helps the story to progress efficiently.
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