Interview by: Graeme Kay
MAORI actor, Rawiri Paratene, who plays Koro in Whale Rider,
is well known in New Zealand for his work in TV and theatre.
The rest of the world probably knows him best for his role in
What Becomes of the Broken Hearted?, the sequel to Once
Were Warriors. Graeme Kay caught up with him London.
Q. What did you think to Koro as a character?
A. I always say that he is one of the most honest characters
I've ever encountered. He is absolutely true to his tikanga -
to his understanding of Maori culture and customs.
But with that integrity comes a stubbornness and a pride and that's
what trips him up.
He simply cannot comprehend that his granddaughter could be the
next chief, because that is something that has never happened
Q. Were you aware of the legend of Paikea as a child?
A. I was brought up in a village not far from Whangara, where
Whale Rider was shot, so, of course, I am aware of the legend
of Paikea, all Maoris are.
But there are many legends in Maori culture, for example, in my
village it is believed that the women arrived there on the back
of a giant bird.
Q. Did that make for a very matriarchal society?
A. Not originally. But these days the women are a very powerful
and vibrant force in Maori politics. They've really led the way
in achieving some of the political and social reforms that the
Maori people have been pushing for over the last few decades.
The old men, who used to be in charge, don't particularly like
that, but they've just had to realise that they have failed themselves
and take a back seat. The women have become very strong in some
Q. So is Maori culture enjoying a resurgence?
A. Yes, yes, very definitely. There was a time, in the 70s
and 80s, when the young people were moving away from the villages
in favour of the big towns.
But they found it hard to get work there and eventually decided
that they might as well be unemployed in their own communities
as somewhere where they might be regarded with hostility.
Although the Maori make up 15% of the NZ population there are
still a lot of red-necks who think that our voice should be ignored.
They hate the fact that we've received grants for education and
agriculture and other training schemes, so we have to deal with
There are still social problems within the Maori community, but
things are definitely improving. We are lucky that in Helen Clark
we have a great Prime Minister, she has taken on the red-necks
and helped the Maori in very significant ways.
Q. How was it working with non-actors in this film?
A. It was great, absolutely great. All the people who appear
as extras in the film were actually from Whangara, so, of course,
they were totally committed to the project, because it was their
own story they were telling.
I have made one or two good friends within that group of people
and I have been back to visit them several times since the filming
They were fantastic to work with. They were there every day, come
rain or shine, they never let anyone down and they were also very
Q. The sequence with the whales was very impressive. Were
any of them actually real?
A. No, they were all models. The thing that made them seem
real wasn't so much the way they looked, although they were fantastic,
as the way the people reacted to them.
Obviously, the whale has great mythical power for the Maori people,
so as far as we were all concerned the spirit that the models
represented was enough to bring them alive.
If you look at the faces of the extras as we stage that scene
where we're trying to save the stranded pod you can see that for
them they were playing out history. There was real passion and