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Outstanding Documentary About A Group Of Missionaries And The Indigenous Tribe They Encountered
, November 13, 2005
This review is from: Beyond the Gates of Splendor (DVD)
"Beyond the Gates Of Splendor" is the incredible story of five missionary families who go to Ecuador in the 1950's. Their mission suffers a tremendous tragedy when four of the men decide to attempt to make contact with the Waodani tribe, a culture considered to be among the most violent in the world according to anthropologists. Three Waodanis come out to meet the men and the two groups interact with pleasure and curiousity. But when two of the tribal members, lovers whose relationship is opposed by the tribe, return they make up a story about being attacked by the "foreigners" in order to explain why they had gone off without their escort. The tribe then proceeds to attack and kill the four missionaries waiting by the river. Of course, their families are shattered by this tragedy. But, later on, two of the female missionaries return to Ecuador along with their children. They eventually befriend several of the Waodani women who had left the jungle and finally ended up going back to live with the Waodanis in their rainforest home for several years.
By the way, I am an atheist who feels that some missionary work can, in fact, have a largely negative impact on the indigenous peoples they are trying to convert. But even I was moved by the the sense of dedication and forgiveness shown by these women when they went to live with the same Waodanis who had murdered their husbands. But, even more so, I was interested in this movie from an anthropological point of view. It was fascinating to hear the comments of the anthropologists who had gone from working with one of the world's most peaceful tribes in Malaysia to now studying one of the most violent in the Waodanis. It also showed how much all human beings ultimately have in common, as the Waodanis interviewed were generally shown to be intelligent, sensitive people who had formed close friendships with the missionaries and their children despite the fact that the two cultures were so extremely different. It was also inspiring to see how, within a generation, the Waodanis had changed from being an extraordinarily violent society, based on blood feuds and vendettas, to an apparently peaceful one. They were even learning to use advanced technology, including one guy who had learned to fly and repair a small airpane which he used to transport his fellow Waodanis to a town with a hospital. I especially liked when the film showed the Waodanis watching old footage from World War II. The Waodanis considered the bomber pilots to be the worst type of "savages" because they were killing people that they didn't even know. In other words, don't get too self-righteous about our "advanced civilization" because even one of the world's most violent tribes is appalled by the methods of modern warfare.
Beyond the incredible story, this is also a well made and beautifully shot documentary which kept me intensely absorded the entire time. My wife, a latina who grew up in Ecuador, was also captived. She said, during her childhood, the Waodanis had a reputation among all Ecuadorians as an especially violent and aggressive people. In fact, one of her sisters, who was considered to have a bad temper, was nicknamed "Auca" (another name for the Waodanis) and the family would make fun of her by imitating Waodani dances when she would get mad. They even had a fake spear made up for her as a joke.
I would recommend this movie to anyone, but especially those interested in indigenous societies and the vast potentialites of human nature and human culture.
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