Pai's uncle is a great example of a person who is not interested in rebelling against the modes of his cultural tradition but is also too apathetic to maintain those traditions vigorously. When Pai asks her uncle to teach her to use the staff, he regains an energy in regards to tradition. Yet, on his own, he is willing to let tradition drop in favor of the easier pleasures of beer, drugs and parties.
I think the biggest struggle that is featured in this excellent film is clearly the gender struggle that is encapsulated with Pai's feeling that she should be the tribal leader of her group. However, clearly, in a patriarchal society, this is not going to happen any time soon, and she has to struggle, and almost die, in her efforts to be accepted and recognised as the tribal leader. It is her grandfather, of course, who is the biggest challenge.
Thew old ways and the new ways is usually a struggle of gender in which men had specific roles to do and so did women. In the movie, it is this universal struggle of emancipation of Pai that has to be undertaken in order for her to ride a whale like a man.
In the movie "The Whale Rider" the young girl has a love of the sea. She has a strong personality and would make a good leader of her people. When she was born her mother had died during childbirth making her father pull away from her. Her grandfather is very old fashioned and adamant that a young girl can not do the things like the boys.
The girl , Pai, believes that she has a destiny to full-fill as a whale rider. Her people believe that the ancient Paikea rode a whale to save himself when he capsized his boat. Her grandfatherdoes not want to let go of the old waves and believes only a male can be a whale rider. Pai has to fight the tradition in order to take her role as a leader.