The story of Kahu in Witi Ihimaera’s Whale Rider unfolds like a well-told joke: it has a long exposition and a relatively short punch line. While the first half of the novel was dedicated to establishing a background upon which to build the story of the Maori people of today, the latter half more deeply explored interpersonal relationships within the tribe, especially those between Kahu and Koro, as well as Koro and Nanny Flowers. Ihimaera depicts the spectrum of human certainty and, in the case of Koro, what it takes for us as humans to believe something we hadn’t thought possible when our presuppositions are so firm.
The second half of the novel describes the maturation of Kahu, every detail seemingly adding additional evidence to the fact that she is the one who is meant to save the Maori people. Because the legends and myths which had been handed down in the Maori tribe are intertwined with the plot of the story, it quickly becomes clear that as she grows, Kahu exhibits more and more traits of the original ancestor, Paikea. Both share a clear connection with whales, sharp intellect, and seemingly pure hearts free of envy or mean-spiritedness. After Kahu fetches the stone which her grandfather had dropped to the bottom of the ocean as a test for his students to try and find a leader among them, Rawiri, Nanny Flowers, and the reader are utterly convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that Kahu is the chosen one. Still, Nanny Flowers understands that Koro is still heavily in denial and unready to accept this so she mandates that no one tell him of Kahu’s fearlessness and success in retrieving the stone.
It is only after Kahu disappears for three days with the whales and emerges alive that Koro can no longer hide behind his denial, causing him to break down and admit, “I should have known she was the one,” (Ihimaera 145). Just as certain and stubborn Koro was with his initial certainty that Kahu was not the savior of the Maori, Kahu was equally steadfast in her love for her great-grandfather despite the fact that he shunned and disappointed her at every turn. In the end, Kahu is rewarded for her patience and strength and ushers in a new era for the Maori tribe.