When her tribe was in distress, Kahu was willing to risk her life in order to save the beached whales as well as the reputation of her tribe. In The Whale Rider by Witi Ihimaera, the main characters, especially the narrator were unable to recognize the signs of Kahu’s giftedness and ability as the future leader of the Tribe. Rawiri, the narrator, throughout the novel states how he wish he realized his niece’s special abilities. This is especially seen when Kahu succeeds in receiving the stone that her great-grandfather threw into the ocean, hoping that one of the boys in the tribe will succeed in retrieving it. Rawiri states that when Kahu is under the water, dolphins “seemed to be talking to her. They circled around Kahu and seemed to be talking to her” (91). While at the beginning of the novel Rawiri was unable to witness her special acts, by this point he is fully aware of her special abilities.
His grandfather, Koro Apirana, on the other hand was unable to realize that Kahu was vital in saving the tribe until she almost lost her life riding the whales out on the open sea. When she finally is awake in the hospital, he tells Nanny Flowers “I should have known she was the one...ever since that time when she was a baby and bit my toe” (145). Blinded by tradition, he was unable to see that his great-granddaughter was talented and had the ability to save the Maori tribe. He was even willing to be hypocritical, choosing a male not directly related to the family to be the new heir just because every single past tribal leader of the Maori have been male. In order of the save the tribe, some of the traditions including having an oldest male son needed to be changed. The willingness to let customs adapt allowed for the survival of Kahu as well as the survival of their tribe. Only in the end of the novel were most of the main characters able to see the special qualities Kahu was capable of, her actions to save the tribe allowed them to realize that in fact this character has shown qualities of a spiritual leader since the beginning.