[Marxism] Whale Rider

Paul H. Dillon illonph at pacbell.net
Tue Mar 2 14:28:34 MST 2004


  That was an excellent summary of the movie and analysis of its meaning
within Maori cultural history.  I enjoyed it very much since, if you mention
Bar Mitzvah one can't help but thinking about "Yentl" which is culturally
appropriate.  The movie is about tradition as well as adaptation as you
point out and the gender/sex issue is forefront.

  ----- Original Message ----- 
  From: "Louis Proyect" <lnp3 at panix.com>
  To: "Activists and scholars in Marxist tradition"
<marxism at lists.econ.utah.edu>; "PEN-L list" <PEN-L at SUS.CSUCHICO.EDU>
  Sent: Tuesday, March 02, 2004 11:50 AM
  Subject: [Marxism] Whale Rider

  > Considering all the hype surrounding "Lord of the Rings", one might have
  > missed another New Zealand export that is now available in DVD/Video and
  > whose 13 year old star was nominated as Best Actress in 2004. I am
  > speaking of "Whale Rider", a Maori coming of age story with a twist--in
  > this case the protagonist is a teenage girl rather than a boy.
  > Although Keisha Castle-Hughes is an Australian Aboriginal, she clearly
  > has an exceptional ability to make her character Pai come to life. When
  > Pai is born, her twin brother and mother die at the same time. Her
  > grief-stricken father Porourangi (Cliff Curtis) leaves New Zealand to
  > pursue a career as an artist, leaving her in the care of her grandfather
  > Koro (Rawiri Paratene), a chief of the Ngati Kanoahi people.
  > He is entrusted with teaching Maori traditions that go back for
  > millennia the 12 year old boys in the village. This consists of lessons
  > in how to chant, dance, wield a club and make fearsome warrior faces.
  > Like any other 12 year olds, their attention span is limited. In many
  > ways, their training reminded me of what it was like to go to Hebrew
  > School in preparation for my Bar Mitzvah.
  > As it turns out, Pai is much more avid to learn Maori skills than any of
  > the boys. In some ways, she is overly zealous. When she encounters Maori
  > women smoking during a card game, she warns them that smoking will
  > weaken their Maori child-bearing properties. Like Lisa Simpson, her
  > conscientiousness goes against the grain of a village as laid-back as
  > Homer and Bart.
  > Although she and her grandfather seem to be on the same wave-length
  > temperamentally, he is dead-set opposed to her learning Maori skills.
  > Over and over he reprimands her for eavesdropping on training sessions
  > for the village boys in hopes of achieving a station that her gender
  > does not permit. Despite obvious differences with western industrial
  > societies, it is reminiscent of the kind of sexism a young girl who
  > aspires to be a football player might encounter.
  > Fortunately, Pai has her grandmother Nanny's (Vicky Haughton) support,
  > who views her husband as hopelessly backward. She refers to him
  > contemptuously as "old Paka" and intercedes on Pai's behalf throughout
  > this marvelous story.
  > The title of the film is derived from the climactic scene in which the
  > villagers struggle in vain to get a group of beached whales to return to
  > the ocean. Since the animals are their totem, this is a matter of
  > life-and-death. Suffice it to say that Pai becomes chief of her people
  > through her heroic intervention.
  > This Sunday's NY Times Magazine had an article on "dying languages" that
  > takes a light-hearted attitude toward the efforts of such people to
  > preserve their cultural identity. From a paper on the Northern Arizona
  > University website titled "Four Successful Indigenous Language
  > Programs", we discover:
  > "The Maori people of New Zealand comprise 15 percent of the New Zealand
  > population of approximately four million people. At first contact with
  > Europeans, 75 percent of the native population died of disease. The
  > history of the Maori reads like the history of the Native American
  > tribes; land taken without treaties, slaughter, and subhuman treatment
  > (Holmes, 1992). The Maori have a common language regardless of where in
  > New Zealand they reside. The tribes trace their ancestry to Polynesian
  > migrants about 800 AD or earlier and followed by other waves of
  > migration, the last major influx at about 1300 AD. Tribes based on
  > family ancestry were further divided into subgroups that lived in
  > villages. They hunted, gathered, and practiced subsistence agriculture.
  > The public meeting house was the center of village life."
  > http://jan.ucc.nau.edu/~jar/TIL_21.html
  > "Whale Rider" is a very convincing account of the Maori people to resist
  > assimilation. The public meeting house of Pai's village is where most of
  > the dramatic scenes take place. This is a film for anybody with a young
  > daughter who might be encountering confining sexual roles in school or
  > in the neighborhood. It is also for anybody who wants to see fine
  > performances in an uplifting film. Strongly recommended.
  > -- 
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