(Excerpted from Activity 3, Lesson 6—“General Cross-Cultural Understanding”—in Journeys in Film’s curricular materials for the movie)
Whale Rider reveals the struggle between Koro, the old chief of a contemporary Maori (New Zealand) community, and Pai, his young granddaughter. Koro refuses to accept that a girl may in fact be the most capable new leader. Strong-willed Pai must gain his approval.
Demonstrate the correct stance for Greek wrestling (feet shoulder-width apart, knees slightly bent, upper body erect, hips to the front). Invite students to knock you off balance. They’ll discover that they cannot. Explain that this stable stance is the same in life: Many cultures believe that we must be rooted in the earth, as in our beliefs.
Next, demonstrate how easy it is to unbalance someone who is too inflexible by again taking your proper stance, while keeping the upper body very rigid. Invite students to try to put you off balance, by holding both your hands and pushing or pulling. They should find they can do that.
Then let your upper body be very flexible. Demonstrate that some flexibility actually creates more balance. Let the students try to push and pull you again. They will find that they can’t because your upper body can “roll with the punches” without affecting your solid stance.
Relate this discussion to the film by talking about how the grandfather’s rigid stance made him ill, harmed the leadership of the community, and alienated his own son and wife.
A version of this article appeared in the March 01, 2007 edition of Teacher as A Whale-Riding Lesson