Kahu is 4 years old, when Rawiri decides it is time he leaves
Whangara. Nanny Flowers does not want him to go, but she accepts
his decision after making him promise to return to Whangara.
Unlike Kahu, my pito couldn‟t have been put in the ground at
Whangara because I didn‟t return there until four years later.
Rawiri goes to Australia, and when he first arrives in Sydney he
stays with his cousin. After a while he begins flatting with a friend
of his, and he starts playing League. It is through League that he
Jeff is from Mount Hagen, in Papua New Guinea. Rawiri and Jeff
flat together in Sydney for over a year.
Porourangi calls Rawiri to tell him that he and Ana are getting
married, and Kahu is going to be the flower girl. Kahu is now
five, and has started school. She is currently still living with Rehua‟s
(her mother‟s) parents. Not long after this, Jeff gets a phone call
from his parents in Papua New Guinea. His father is struggling to
run the plantation on his own.
“I‟ll have to go,” said Jeff. I knew he was reluctant to do so.
Indeed, one of the reasons why he had come to Sydney was that
it was as far from his family as he could get. He loved them
deeply, but sometimes love becomes a power game between the
ambitions that parents have for their children and the ambitions
that children have for themselves. (pg 66)
Jeff asks Rawiri to come with him to Papua New Guinea, and Rawiri
accepts, despite the fact that he had been thinking of going home
Rawiri spends two years in Papua New Guinea with Jeff and
Jeff‟s family. Jeff‟s mother, Clara, is unapologetically racist.
Although Jeff had told her that I was Maori it was obvious that
I was still too dark. As soon as I stepped off the plane I could
almost hear her wondering, „Oh my goodness, how am I going to
explain this to the women at the Bridge Club?‟ (pg 68)
Tom, Jeff‟s father, is another story entirely. Rawiri likes him from
the start. Because Tom has Parkinson‟s disease, Jeff runs the
plantation and Rawiri works on the plantation to get it back up and
Rawiri marvels at the racial situation in Papua New Guinea. The
government is trying to transplant national identity and customs
into the country. He sees it as a similar situation to the Maori
people in New Zealand.
In many respects the parallels with the Maori in New Zealand were
very close. However, our journey was possibly more difficult because it
had to be undertaken within Pakeha terms of acceptability.
So it was in Australia and Papua New Guinea I grew into an
understanding of myself as a Maori, and, I guess, was being prepared
for my date with destiny. Whether it had anything to do with Kahu‟s
destiny, I don‟t know, but just as I was maturing in my own
understanding she too was moving closer and closer to the point where
she was in the right place, at the right time, with the right
understanding to accomplish the task which had been assigned to her.
In this respect there was no doubt in my mind that she had always
been the right person. (pg 70)
Porourangi writes to his brother in Papua New Guinea to keep him
informed of the situation in Whangara. Koro Apirana is now running a
second series of classes for the people of Whangara. While Koro
Apirana has accepted that Porourangi is „the one‟ in the current
generation, he is still looking for „the one‟ in the up-and-coming
“He wants to find a young boy,” Pourourangi jested, “to pull the sword
out of the stone, someone who has been marked by the Gods for the
task. Nobody has so far been able to satisfy him.”
He also writes to say that Kahu, who is now 6,
is returning to live with him and Ana. His next
letter arrives with the news that Ana is
pregnant, and the whole family is hoping that
the baby will be a boy.
Three events occur in Papua New Guinea which convince Rawiri
that he needs to return home. The first was a comment made by
Clara made is perfectly obvious that she was embarrassed by my
presence and I was saddened to hear her say to another
guest, “He‟s a friend of Jeff‟s. You know our Jeff, always bringing
home dogs and strays. But at least he‟s not a native.”
Jeff runs over a native as they are all coming home from a party.
Rawiri cannot understand why Clara, Jeff and Tom all have the
opinion that it doesn‟t matter because the man was a native. To
Rawiri, a cous is a cous.
“I don‟t blame you,” I said to Jeff. “You can‟t help being who you
are.” But all I could think was the waste of a young man who had
come one thousand years to his death on a moonlit road, the
manner in which the earth must be mourning for one of its hopes
and its sons in the new world, and the sadness that a friend I
thought I had would so automatically react to the assumptions of
his culture. And would I be next?
The second event comes via another letter from Porourangi. Ana
has given birth, and has had a girl. Koro Apirana is disappointed and
blames Nanny Flowers. Kahu is excited to have a baby sister.
Rawiri decides to come home, and books his tickets to return to
The third event had been a strange cloud formation I had seen a
month before above the mountains. The clouds looked like a surging
sea and through them from far away a dark shape was
approaching, slowly plunging. As it came closer and closer I saw
that it was a giant whale. On its head was a sacred sign, a gleaming
Rawiri returns to Whangara, and notices how much Kahu has grown. She
is no longer a baby, but a beautiful doe-eyed girl with long legs and an
infectious giggle. She has her hair in plaits and she is wearing a white
dress and sandals. The family have a BBQ to welcome Rawiri home.
I saw Koro Apirana rocking in his chair, back and forth. Back and forth.
Kahu came up to him and put her hand in his. He pushed her away and
she dissolved into the dark. The guitars played on. (pg 80)
Suddenly Kahu arrived, dawdling from the opposite direction. She
looked disconsolate and sad. Then she saw Koro Apirana. Her face lit up
and she ran to him, crying “Paka! Oh Paka!”
He turned to her quickly. “Haere atu koe,” he said. “You are of no use to
Kahu stopped in her tracks. I thought she would cry, but she knitted
her eyebrows and gave him a look of such frustration that I could
almost hear her saying to herself, „You just wait, Paka, you just wait.‟ (pg
Kahu invites the whole family to the end of school concert. Everyone
attends except Koro Apirana, who was supposed to be Kahu‟s special guest.
I could see that Kahu had realised that Koro Apirana was not going to
arrive. The light kept dimming, gradually fading from her face, like a light
bulb flickering. She looked as if she was feeling ashamed, and I loved her
all the more for her vulnerability. (pg 86)
The Headmaster then announces that one of
the students won the East Coast speech
competition, which had been given entirely
in Maori. Kahu steps forward. The family
knew nothing of her achievement. Kahu then
begins her speech, which tells of her great
love and respect for her great-grandfather,
and how her main aim in life is to fulfil the
wishes of her Koro Apirana and her tribe.
Kahu put her face against Nanny Flowers‟ cheeks. Her voice was
drained and defeated. “It‟s not Paka‟s fault, Nanny,” she said, “that
I‟m a girl.” (pg 87)
Koro Apirana takes all the boys from the wananga out onto the
sea, where he throws a carved stone into the ocean. He tells the
boys that one of them will bring it back to him. Though they
try, none of the boys are able to get the stone from the depths of
the ocean. Koro Apirana returns home and begins to cry.
Kahu, knowing the reason her Paka is upset, goes out with Nanny
Flowers and Rawiri to the place where the stone was thrown. She
dives overboard and, with the help of dolphins, finds the stone and
brings it back to the surface.
As we got back to the beach, Nanny Flowers said again, “Not a
word, Rawiri. Not a word about the stone or our Kahu.” She looked
up at the statue of Paikea.
“He‟s not ready yet,” she said.
The sea seemed to be trembling with anticipation. (pg 92)
The whales have reached Antarctica, and are struggling to make their
way through the walls of ice. The herd are frightened because their
leader, the ancient bull whale, is leading them towards the dangerous
islands to the South.
So long a part of their own whakapapa and legend, the golden rider
could not be dislodged from their leader‟s thoughts. The last journey
had begun and at the end of it Death was waiting. The whales swept
swiftly through the southern seas. (pg 97)
Two hundred whales beach themselves along Wainui beach, not far from
Whangara. Koro Apirana is sure it is a sign to the Maori people. Though
some of the locals seize the opportunity to butcher the whales before
they are even dead, most of the locals work relentlessly to return the
herd back to the sea. Their efforts are in vain, however, and all two
hundred whales die. Though Rawiri and Nanny Flowers do their best to
stop Kahu hearing about the whales, she finds out.
I found Kahu way up on the bluff, calling out to sea. She was making
that mewling sound and then cocking her head to listen for a reply. The
sea was silent, eternal. (pg 106)
I will never forget the look on Kahu‟s face. She was gazing out to
sea and it was as if she was looking back into the past. It was a
look of calm, or acceptance.
All of a sudden there was a dull booming from beneath the
water, like a giant door opening a thousand years ago. Then streaks
of blue lightning came shooting out of the sea like missiles. I
thought I saw something flying through the air, across the
aeons, to plunge into the marae.
A dark shadow began to ascend from the deep, and I saw it was a
whale. Koro Apirana gave a tragic cry, for this was no ordinary
beast. The sea was filled with whales and in their vanguard was
their ancient battle-scarred leader.
On the head of the whale was the sacred sign. A swirling moko.
The ancient bull whale beaches itself at Whangara, waiting to die. Five
elderly female whales had separated from the herd to lie close to the bull
whale and encourage him back to the sea, but he remains unmoving. Koro
Apirana tells Nanny Flowers to keep all of the women back, as the work is
tapu (sacred). He tells her to keep Kahu away, because she is useless to
“You have all seen the whale,” Koro Apirana said. “You have all seen the
sacred sign tattooed on its head. Is the moko there by accident or by
design? Why did a whale of its appearance strand itself here and not at
Wainui? Does it belong in the real world or the unreal world?”
Koro Apirana put up his hand. “It is both. It is a reminder of the oneness
which the world once had. It is the pito joining the past and present,
reality and fantasy. It is both. It is both!” he thundered, “and if we have
forgotten the communion then we have ceased to be Maori.”
“The whale is a sign.” He began again. “It has stranded itself here. If we
are able to return it to the sea, then that will be proof that the oneness is
still with us. If we are not able to return it, then this is because we have
become weak. If it lives, we live. If it dies, we die. Not only its salvation
but ours is waiting out there.” (pg 116)
The men tie a rope around the whale‟s massive tail, and try to turn
the whale with a tractor, but the rope breaks. Koro Apirana
decides that it is time for the women to act as men, and they
wade into the water to help the men. However, it does no good, and
the whale cannot be moved. It is waiting to die.
Kahu cannot understand what is going on. She asks her Paka.
“Our tipua wants to die.” Koro Apirana said.
“There is no place for it here in this world. The people who once
commanded it are no longer here.” He paused. “When it dies, we
die. I die.”
“No, Paka. And if it lives?”
“Then we live also.”
Nobody saw her slip away and enter the water. Nobody knew until she
was halfway through the waves. (pg 122)
Kahu, desperate to save the dying whale and her iwi, plunges into the
water. She begins to talk and sing to the whale, telling him that she is
Kahutia Te Rangi. The waves are crashing into her and she is choking
on water. She begs the whale to help her.
Cold and exhausted, Kahu noticed indentations appearing in the skin
of the whale. She pulls herself up onto the whale.
On shore, Nanny Flowers is sobbing for her grandchild, while Rawiri
furiously battles the sea as he tries to make his way towards his
Quietly, Kahu began to weep. She wept because she was frightened. She
wept because Paka would die if the whale died. She wept because she
was lonely. She wept because she loved her baby sister and her father
and Ana. She wept because Nanny Flowers wouldn‟t have anyone to help
her in the kumara patch. She wept because Koro Apirana didn‟t love her.
And she also wept because she didn‟t know what dying was like. (pg 127)
She was going, our Kahu. She was going into the deep ocean. I
could hear her small piping voice in the darkness as she left us.
She was going with the whales into the sea and rain. She was a
small figure in a white dress, her braids swinging in the rain. Then
she was gone, and we were left behind. (pg 128)
She was the whale rider. “I‟m not afraid to die,” she whispered to herself.
Tears were streaming down Nanny Flowers‟ face. She reached into
her pockets for a handkerchief. Her fingers curled around a carved
stone. She took it out and gave it to Koro Apirana.
“Which of the boys?” He gasped in grief. “Which of the….”
Nanny Flowers was pointing out to sea. Her face was filled with
emotion as she cried out to Kahu. The old man understood. He raised
his arms as if to claw down the sky upon him. (pg 131)
The herd of whales dive down into the ocean. Kahu is still clinging to
the back of the ancient bull whale, the koroua, the whale with the
The whales see the young human on the back of their leader, and the
kai karanga (ancient female) asks her leader why he is taking the
tekoteko (statue) with them.
He is certain that she is Paikea, his golden master, but he notices
that she feels lighter than he expected. The kai karanga convinces
the koroua that she is not Paikea, but an ancestor of Paikea.
Understanding that his fate, and that of the small child on his
back, are inexplicably intertwined, the koroua commands that the
pod of whales return the child back to the world of man.
In her memory‟s eye the kai karanga saw Paikea himself and he was
flinging small spears seaward and landward. (pg 136)
And through the mists of time the ancient bull whale saw his
master, Paikea, flinging wooden spears into the sky. Some in mid
flight became birds. And others on reaching the sea turned into
eels. And he, Paikea himself, was a mauri populating the land and sea
so that it was no longer barren. (pg 138)
The koroua swayed in the silken tides of the stirring sea. Though
tired, he sensed the truth in his cosort‟s words. For he remembered
that Paikea had hesitated before throwing the last of his wooden
spears and , when he did this, he has said, „Let this one be planted in
the years to come when the people are troubled and the mauri is
most needed.‟ And the mauri, soaring through the sky came to rest in
the earth where the afterbirth of a female child would be placed.
Chapters 20 and 21
Nanny Flowers wakes up in the hospital, with Koro Apirana beside
her. She despairs that her Kahu is lost to them forever.
Instead she learns that while she was unconscious, Kahu had been
found floating in the ocean, surrounded by dolphins. Kahu was found
3 days after her brave ride on the back of the ancient bull whale.
Kahu had been rushed to hospital, where her heart had stopped
many times. The doctors have revived her, but she has yet to wake
from her coma.
Koro Apirana blames himself for all the times he cast Kahu away
from himself, and that he never saw that she was the one. He is
contrite and accepting of all the Nanny Flowers says of him.
While the old married couple are arguing, Kahu suddenly wakes.
Kahu tells her great-grandparents that they sound just like the kai
karanga and the koroua (the ancient whales) arguing.
She apologises to her great-grandfather for falling off the whale, and
says that if she was a boy she would have held on tighter. She
apologises for being a girl.
Koro Apirana tells her that she is the best grandchild in the world, and
boy or girl, it doesn‟t matter to him.
Then from the backwash of Time came the voice of the koroua, the
ancient bull whale. „Child, your iwi await you. Return to the Kingdom of
Tane and fulfil your destiny.‟
Kahu looked at Koro Apirana, her eyes shining.
„Oh Paka, can‟t you hear them? I‟ve been listening to them for ages
now. Oh Paka, and the whales are still singing,‟ she said. (pg 148)