3 minute read

Witi (Tame) Ihimaera (1944-)


Witi Ihimaera "has the distinction of being the first Maori writer to publish both a book of short stories and a novel," wrote a contributor on the New Zealand Book Council Web site. The Maori people were the native Eight-year-old Kahu tries to overcome her great-grandfather's dismissal of her talents and claim her right as chief of the Maori tribe, a role that has always been held by a male descendant of the legendary whale rider. culture in New Zealand before the Europeans arrived. Ihimaera has written many books for adults, as well as some for children and young adults, that help to illuminate the world of the Maori.

Perhaps Ihimaera's most famous children's book is The Whale Rider, written in three weeks in New York and on Cape Cod. It relates the story of a Maori girl, her relationship with a whale, and how that relationship saves her village. The story is told from the viewpoint of her uncle and of the whales. Originally written in 1987, the book gained prominence in 2003, with the world-wide release of an award-winning movie version. Reviewing the 2003 edition, A Kirkus Reviews contributor wrote, "dazzling ocean descriptions from the whales' perspective highlight the poetic writing," while Booklist's Gillian Engberg called it "a haunting story." Calling the work "a poetic blend of reality and myth," School Library Journal critic Susan Oliver found The Whale Rider "a tale rich in intense drama and sociological and cultural information."

Ihimaera once said, "There are two landscapes to New Zealand, the Maori and the Pakeha (European). I began writing and continue writing to ensure that the Maori landscape of New Zealand is taken into account. I am Maori. I write about Maori people. They are my commitment—and I am committed not only in my writing, but also in my career and my whole life."

Biographical and Critical Sources


Contemporary Novelists, 7th edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 2001.


Booklist, July, 2003, Gillian Engberg, review of The Whale Rider, p. 1881.

Choice, June, 1990, review of Dear Miss Mansfield: A Tribute to Kathleen Mansfield Beauchamp, p. 1678.

Contemporary Pacific, spring, 1998, Paul Lyons, review of Nights in the Gardens of Spain, p. 280.

Encounter, May, 1987, Michael Thorpe, review of The Matriarch, p. 45.

Gay & Lesbian Review Worldwide, January-February, 2003, Margaret Meklin, "A Maori Writer in Two Worlds," p. 30.

Journal of Commonwealth Literature, spring, 1999, Juniper Ellis, interview with Witi Ihimaera, p. 169.

Kirkus Reviews, December 1, 1989, review of Dear Miss Mansfield: A Tribute to Kathleen Mansfield Beauchamp, p. 1698; May 1, 2003, review of The Whale Rider, p. 678.

Landfall, November, 1998, Peter Beatson, review of The Dream Swimmer, p. 308.

London Review of Books, December 18, 1986, review of The Matriarch, p. 20.

Modern Fiction Studies, winter, 1990, review of The Matriarch, pp. 483-498.

Publishers Weekly, December 8, 1989, review of Dear Miss Mansfield: A Tribute to Kathleen Mansfield Beauchamp, p. 42.

School Library Journal, September, 2003, Susan Oliver, review of The Whale Rider, p. 214.

Times Literary Supplement, February 9, 1973, review of Pounamu, Pounamu, p. 141; July 12, 1974, review of Tangi, p. 741; March 7, 1975, Martha Miller, review of Whanau, p. 260.

World Literature Today, spring, 1978, Charles R. Larson, review of The New Net Goes Fishing, p. 247; autumn, 1978, Norman Simms, review of The New Net Goes Fishing, p. 696; spring, 1987, Reed Way Daenbrock, review of The Matriarch, p. 351.


New Zealand Book Council Web Site, http://www.bookcouncil.org.nz/ (September 23, 2003), biographical information on Ihimaera.*

Additional topics

Brief BiographiesBiographies: James Heneghan (1930-) Biography - Personal to Rick Jacobson Biography - PersonalWiti (Tame) Ihimaera (1944-) Biography - Writings, Sidelights - Personal, Career, Member, Honors Awards, Adaptations