Throughout the first half of the The Whale Rider, tradition and gender roles played a major role in the movement of the plot and the actions of the characters; yet, in the second half, instinct seems to drive the plot and action, for both the inhabitants of the island and the whales.
Nearly all of Kahu’s actions are instinctive; she is not taught or told that she has the ability to communicate with the whales, yet she knows she has the capability and executes it in various parts of the novel. She also does not know exactly what will happen when she swims up to the ancient whale, but she instinctually knows that it is for the best.
The whales also operate on instinct, as they travel through dangerous areas to beach themselves at the instinct of their ancient leader to return to his master. Their leader is overcome by the urge to return to Whangara, perhaps sensing that Kahu, the “final spear”, has been born. It is also the instinct of his mate to urge the old male to allow Kahu back to her people so that she may be the dawn of a new era.
Nanny Flowers also indulges her intuition, especially when concerning Kahu. She nurtures the girl and encourages her to become involved in Maori tradition, even against the opposition of Koro. She also feels that it is also unwise to tell him about Kahu’s retrieval of the stone, based not on fact, but a feeling.
Generally, most actions in the world are based on instinct; decisions are based on a certain degree of intuition that one is doing the right thing, though it may not be immediately apparent. Many of the characters in The Whale Rider are driven by instinct, which, considering the supernatural elements of the novel, is much more dependable than whatever “facts” they have (which may be credited to the traditions and legends they all know well).