Technorati search

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

From Savage to Saved

Fifty years ago, five men landed a plane in a rainforest in Ecuador. They knew exactly what they were doing. They were trying to befriend one of the most hostile civilizations known to man, the Waodani. After a few days and at least one friendly encounter, all five men were speared to death in their camp. It didn’t take long. A mission which all five men had spent much of their young lives preparing for, either directly or indirectly, was over before it even really started. Or at least it seemed that way. In reality, a completely new adventure was about to begin, one that would be unleashed without them, but one which would transorm the entire cultural paradigm of the tribal village.

What was their purpose? Why would those five men knowlingly risk their lives at the hands of savages? Because they had a message which they were conviced the Waodani people needed to know, a message that would bring forgiveness, redemption, and reconciliation.

Nate Saint was one of those men. His son, Steve Saint has helped formulate an independent film, produced by Every Tribe Entertainment, depicting the account from the perspective of the Waodani people, particularly Mincayani, one of the savages who speared the five men to death, and more importantly, the one who later became “Grandfather” to young Steve Saint.

End of the Spear is the name of the film. It tells the story of how the martyrdom of the five missionaries opened the door for future dialogue between the tribespeople and their victim’s surviving families. Consequently, a revival, both spiritual and cultural, swept through the tribe, bringing a new undertanding of peace never before experienced by the Waodani, one which even now, fifty years later, still permeates their tribal community.

The End of the Spear is entering its second full week of release in a limited number of theaters. It’s opening weekend grossed 4.3 million. This past weekend’s sales dropped to 2.5 million.

The film has generated controversy in some circles because the main character, Nate Saint, is played by Chad Allen who is openly homosexual. There are those who will refuse to support the film for that reason. I tend to think that that particular reason for not viewing the film is too near sighted, even too the point of being ironic. The message of the film is that evil can be subdued by good. The actor’s personal lifestyle bears no reflection upon the message which the film promotes. It shouldn’t even be an issue.

In Lynchburg, End of the Spear is playing at Carmike 8 -


At 11:17 PM, Blogger Jeff said...

Hi CT,

I agree with you, an actor's private life should have no bearing on his film career. How well he is able to portray the role should be the only consideration.

Now, I am very concerned, maybe even upset about your use of the word "savage". defines savage as:

1. Not domesticated or cultivated; wild: savage beasts of the jungle.
2. Not civilized; barbaric: a savage people.
3. Ferocious; fierce: in a savage temper.
4. Vicious or merciless; brutal: a savage attack on a political rival. See Synonyms at cruel.
5. Lacking polish or manners; rude.

1. A person regarded as primitive or uncivilized.
2. A person regarded as brutal, fierce, or vicious.
3. A rude person; a boor.

The problem I have with this word is it characterizes a culture by some other culture's standards or beliefs on what "civilized" means. The whites called the Native Americans savages when they arrived in America. The conquistadores called the Aztecs savages when they arrived on their shores. The English called the Scots savages. The Egyptians called the Hebrews savages. The Republicans call the Democrats.....well I think you see where I am going with this.

It is easy to characterize another culture as savage when we don't like or understand that culture. It also makes it easier to eradicate a whole people when we say, "Well, they are only savages" See, when you deal with "savages" you don't have to worry about niceities such as human rights, political correctness, or even common courtesy....after all, they are only savages.

It is when we stop treating unknown or unusual cultures and people as savages that misunderstandings and wrongful deaths will stop. Even in the 21st Century, we still have people we call "savage"

Maybe one day...religion notwithstanding, we will have a globe full of "People".

Peace and Light

At 11:44 PM, Blogger DAN said...

Hi guys:

Melissa always reads the articles to me that she thinks I might be interested in. This one sounds good! I'm sure the movie is fascinating and the theme is worthwhile.

For anybody who cares, I have a reading assignment -- "The Culture Cult" by Roger Sandall. The author takes apart the myth that somehow all cultures are morally equal and comparisons don't make sense. There are such things as savages, and thank goodness we're not savages! I agree that using broad terms is always a bad idea. I also think that many times we use broad concepts to keep from looking deeper into a situation.

I do draw the line, however, with the mushy-headed, empty-thinking, don't-judge-anything standard of deconstructionalistic thinking that passes for intelligence anymore. It does not seem productive to me. Jeff -- I don't think you were doing this, but you ventured rather close. If a tribe eats their enemies, they're savages. If they have no respect for property, they're savages. I could go on, but the book is good. Anybody who is interested should give it a read. All cultures are not the same. Some are demonstrably better than others. Good article, CT!

At 1:12 AM, Blogger Jeff said...

>>>>If a tribe eats their enemies, they're savages. If they have no respect for property, they're savages<<<<<<

Again, this is judging by our morals and ideals. While I do not agree with cannabalism, or any of the other myriad of practices that some tribes have or had, the point that I was making is that that does not, by default, make them savages. You have to consider the people in the context of their environment. A good example of this would be a urban city resident coming into a rural area of our country and calling the locals savages because they actually hunt down and kill animals, and butcher animals in their backyard. How horrid...How cruel! Indeed, how very very savage. But those of us that grew up in the rural area know the value of hunting and butchering our cattle and pigs, and know that for may families, this is not only a normal thing to do, but even necessary for some to have food.
Not unlike people who take passages out of the Bible to suit their needs without consideration to the surrounding passages, simply looking at a people that practice some harsh practices and labeling them savage, is well...illogical and rather obtuse.

And yes, it is a good article, as long as one takes the people in the proper context of their environment, and not judge them by our standards of conduct and civility.

At 1:21 AM, Blogger B O B said...

If the movie is on this weekend, I will take a look at it. I havent been to the movies in years.

At 1:58 AM, Blogger DAN said...

Jeff. I think you mean well, but I would ask you to really think about what you are saying.

The reason there is such a thing as a civilized world is because we gave up cannibalism, gave up the strongest man taking all the women, and gave up the idea that items could be stolen from your person at will without any due recourse. This is not simply a matter of "judging by our morals and ideals". These concepts simply do not provide value to the people who practice them in comparison with more civilized behavior. And you can define "value" any way you like. The people themselves have no problem adapting modern mores -- it is the armchair anthropologist who continuously muses on how everything is so relative.

It is interesting that once cultures are assimilated, forcefully or not, into modernity, there comes with it a romantic pause, a noble savage, a vision of peaceful, happy people fishing in a clear mountain stream for supper under a blue sky. If only we would respect these people, we are told, and understand that everything is relative. Infant mortality rates of 80% (and infanticide) are completely acceptable, one supposes, if one lives next to Smokey Bear.

It doesn't work that way. It never worked that way except in a lot of people's imaginations. Primitive societies are harsh, brutal affairs. Life is short and has no value. Morality and tolerence -- the values we cherish -- are completely unknown, as is individual responsibility.

No. There is a great ditch between us and them. It is real and we can talk about it in terms that are concrete. In fact, to use weasel words is to deny both of our cultures the ability to grow together. That is not to say the people themselve are somehow inferior or bad. Some things work and some things don't. It's great to be talking about this on a blog instead of beating each other with clubs, right?

And yes, this argument presupposes that 200 years from now when the aliens land from Zeta Reticulae that we will somehow be savages to them. In fact, we must accept the truth that "civilization" is a moving target. If we stop judging what works and what doesn't in the name of tolerence then we ourselves will become as stale and dead as some of the savages we seem to love to fantasize about.

Just my opinion. 25 cents will get you another one. (grin)

At 3:22 AM, Blogger Jeff said...

I always think about what I say.

And the term civilized is a very relative term. Take Native Americans for example. We considered them to be savages, and ourslves to be "civilized" , they on the other hand considered us to be the savages and they to be the civilized community. We came to this country as a nasty, bug infested wasteful people (not much has changed really) they on the other hand were living in conert with nature, taking only what they needed. They had (have) a beautiful religious background, language, art, etc. Savages?

We killed whole populations , we kept slaves, we treated our woman as property, denying them many basic rights. Even now we make war on another culture...another religion ( and do not deny it is about religion...ask any Muslim what happened after 9-11).

Many things that other cultures do are abhorent to us in here in the "civilized West. Canabalism for instance. In some cultures it was (is) a funeral rite...a way to keep the beloved dead with making him/her part of you. It is also a way to totally decimate your enemy...and is a wonderfully powerful instrument of terror. If an enemy knows that not only will they be defeated, but killed and eaten, it is a big deterrent against attack. Most cannabalism in the tribal setting is ritualistic and is not a way to supply food.

And yes, I realize that humans will seem as "savages" and will appear uncivilized to the visitors from Zeta Reticulae, but it is my hope that these visitors will not just be civilized, but instead, enlightened. For enlightenment is a much loftier and noble goal than civilization. Besides, if they can travel 39 and a half billion light years to visit Earth, then they should value the principle of non-interference, something that we have not yet grasped.

At 10:10 AM, Blogger DAN said...

I can't help you with your liberal guilt, Jeff, and it seems you're carrying a lot of it around.

As for Native Americans, enjoy your belief system. I could argue specifics with you, but I don't want to offend your sensibiilties further. Is having the wheel better than not having it? Certainly. Is a tradition of written literature, music, philosophy, drama, etc better than not? Absolutely. Being enlightened? The concept itself is a modern western one. If you don't "get" that, then I suggest spending some time actually living in one of these societies. I like fantasy as much as the next person, I just think that in return for living in an enlightened, cosmopolitan society, we are expected to use that stuff between our ears from time to time.

How ironic that some could stand on the shoulders of giants, using all of the tools made available to them, only to abdicate any benefit gained from those tools -- the ability to freely think and judge. All people have the right to be treated equally. The same is not true of all societies.

Think for a minute. Please. Was Nazi Germany okay because they were just different? How about the Mongols -- invading most of eastern europe and almost destroying the muslims in the process? Both of these societies were ruthlessly effective for their time. Indeed, they looked with scorn on other societies around them. But they lacked basic individual rights. These aren't just lofty thoughts or relative values. These ideas have meaning, impact on people everywhere. There are more ideas like that waiting for us to discover, but we will only make those discoveries if we are able to make judgements about what works and what doesn't. Don't give up your rationality because somebody somewhere made you feel guilty about yourself and your society.

Give the book an open-minded read and let me know what you think. I'd like to hear your opinion.

At 11:16 AM, Blogger Jeff said...

Dan you are comparing apples and oranges. My original point way back in the beginning was that we, as a supposed "Civilized" culture often badly mistreat indigenous peoples simply because "We" think they need to be civilized, or need Jesus instead of their own belief system, etc. An outstanding example of this is what we, as a "civilized" culture did to the Hawai'i tribes. If you have ever read, or have seen James Michener's Hawai'i, then you know of what I speak.

Germany of the 20th Century can not be used as an argument to my statement, neither even can the Mongols. I am talking about how "we", the white man, the European-American Culture of the last 200 hundred years has gone in and fundamentally changed the way of life and systems of self-government of many indigenous peoples. That is what I was talking about.

I know you and Melissa are devout Christians, and that is great. Now suppose those Zeta Reticulans you mentioned arrived and said, "You must give up your superstitious and superfluous belief in this "god" of yours. We have a better way...we have no proof that ours is better mind you, only that WE think it is and we are stronger and more civilized than you savages with your Christ"

Would that be OK? Would the fact that they would be able to vastly improve our way of life (in their eyes anyway), help with medicines, education, tools and techniques, would it be OK then for you to give up your beliefs in Jesus and His Father and the Salvation that They promise and fall in line with the Z.R.'s beliefs?

I hope it will, because that is after all what you are saying is OK that we have done, and continue to do to the indigenous peoples of our planet...few though they might be now.

BTW - I enjoy these verbal tennis matches with you and CT...keeps my positronic net functioning within normal parameters. :)

At 1:06 PM, Blogger DAN said...

Thanks for the reply, Jeff. I know I am taking an unpopular position, so maybe this will get people thinking out there.

First I am not a devout Christian. I think Melissa uses the term "flatulent butthead" to describe my belief system most of the time.

I am not mixing apples and oranges. I am saying that instead of focusing on White Europeans, take a look a the big picture -- what happens when civilizations interact?

With the popularity of Star Trek, we've got this Prime Directive crap stuck in our heads, and it is the lazy way of dealing with the issue. Certainly we can do better than that.

As far as Mitcher, I can't state strongly enough that we romanticize those cultures we have assimilated. It's one of those things you either understand or do not. It makes for great fiction and movies, but very poor understanding of reality in my opinion.

Ok. Let's assume the ZRs show up in their spaceship and announce: 1) There is no god, there is actually a three-headed snake named George who runs this part of the galaxy (who would look like god to us because of his technological powers), 2) eating anything, including plants, is immoral. The only moral thing to eat is synthesized protein, and 3) Ross Perot was actually an evil emmissary from the dark overlord sent to keep old Bush from getting elected again.

I for one would go out and buy all the books I could about ZR and the larger galactic society. I would learn different ways and customs. I would celebrate having new friends and seek to understand what parts of their culture I could assimilate. Sure -- I couldn't assimilate it all. Nobody could. But I would want, for myself and my children, to take as much good as possible from this new contact and put it to use.

That, my friend, is the REAL difference between the white european christian tradition and most other cultures. We just absorb it and go on. Nobody sits around wondering whether or not the culture in the USA is the same as it was in the 1700s. (I'm sure some do, but they are in the same spot as the Native American fantasy cult) Why? Because it is better now. We are a culture always in transition. Native Americans were the same for thousands of years. We won't be the same twenty years from now.

How do we measure the word "better"?

Look at it this way. Every so often somebody comes up with a new idea -- property rights, free speech, freedom of religion, etc. Some of these ideas work out, most do not. At the time, however, these good ideas are tremendously great things! We celebrate them as great acheivements and life gets better for everybody.

The problem is that this initial celebration is easily forgotten. You stack up a few hundred astounding ideas over a thousand years and suddenly it all seems so arbitrary. Who are we to judge? Is there really a difference between a schmuck working in an office everyday and a headhunter tracking down his next human victim? It's all relative, right?

Wrong. Respecting human life was a great idea when it first appeared, sometime around the time of the Ten Commandments. Not raping women was a great idea as well. Washing every now and then seems to be working out okay. These were tremendous advances in humanity at the time, which most everyone (but not all) felt made life longer, happier, and more enjoyable for all. Over time, however, we ignore the big lesson of these ideas and instead yearn for the alledged simplicity of earlier life. This feeling is part of human nature. Go back to ancient Greece, 3 thousand years ago, and you'll find cults in the streets talking about how it would all be much better if we could just return to the primitive ways of doing things. Part of the reason people feel this way is that it is easy to ignore those parts of primitive cultures which offend us, especially if we are not in day-to-day contact with them.

This has nothing to do with Christianity. It has to do with stagnation and our responsibility as free thinkers to keep our society moving forward. Cultural relativism is a powerful obstacle to independent analysis. If one day you would like for us to reach the stars, then we've got to keep reaching for them, instead of sitting around moaning about how much better it was back so-and-so. It wasn't better. That's why we moved on. We made a decision about what worked and what didn't and went forward.

At 7:53 PM, Blogger C.T. said...

I'm glad to see some interesting dialogue here. Jeff, I agree with you that the word "savage" can be overused and/or misused. But I don't think it was misused in the article. The waodani were savages. They were brutal people. They had no reverence for life. Now they do. I think the fact that they conciously changed from savage to civilized proves that they considered their previous culture inferior to that of which they came to learn. I don't think we should be hesitant to call the culture which they came to learn a "christian" culture.

I understand that in the worldview which you propose, it leaves no room for me to say that you are wrong, but I will anyhow, because in my worldview there is plenty of room to say that. Calling a people group savage does not mean that I'm saying they're less than human. In fact, I'm saying quite the opposite. It's because they are fellow human beings that I can call them savages if their lifestyle makes it plain. I think what you're denying is moral order. We don't go around calling wild animals savages for good reason. But we do go around calling people savages who act like wild animals.

Dan, I appreciate your input and would mostly agree with your argumenet, but I think I would have to disagree with you on the methodology of how you arrive at the conclusion. If I'm correct, it seems you are arguing from a pragmatic standpoint, saying that there is a distinction between what is savage and civilized because time and progress proves civilization to be better. I would say that the difference lies not on pragmatic grounds, but on moral grounds, that we should behave a certain way not merely because it works, but because it's right.

Thank you both for you're insights. Much appreciated.

At 11:57 AM, Anonymous Lonnie Murray said...

I have seen this film and I felt it was offensive and left out a great deal of details. The question is not about how savage a culture is, on that I completely agree with Jeff. Savage is almost always invoked as a cultural slur, just like the word Barbarian (which means literally "not greek"). For that matter, lets consider the Samaritans. Society saw them as abhorent, but Jesus used one as an example for us to follow. I think he was making a point about cultures and what Christian love should be all about. Jesus argued that love should transcend gender, culture, and ethnicity.

That said, Dan is right that all technologies and cultures are not inherently equal. For that matter the "Noble Savage" stereotype is yet another kind of racism because it too denies the humanity of a people. It sets up a standard that real people cannot live up to, and freezes them in time. It in effect creates a situation where a Native person might not be hired by a law firm because they are still percieved as that person wearing feathers and living in a teepee.

I think there's a subtle point here that both Jeff and Dan are missing. The question is not about how "savage" a group of people are or aren't. Arguably, the Inca were more civilized than the Spaniards who defeated them. (After all, the Spanish inquisition was "savage" by almost any standards.) The question here is what culture has the right to interfere with another and force its will upon them?

Some missionaries visit native people and act as if their flashlights, cell phones, chainsaws, and other technology were handed to them by God, when really they were given by science; often against the wishes of religous leaders. They walk into villages well fed, with medicines and tools and make it seem as if their faith is the reason they have all these material things. This is a deception, and last time I checked, lying is a sin. Are these people told that there are Pagans, Hindus, Muslims, and Buddhists who not only have access to the same healthcare and food but who played a crital role in designing the technology some missionaries so brazenly use to sell salvation?

Here's my point. Why don't any people, regardless of their current situation, deseverve the right of self-determination? Why don't they deserve the right to hear the WHOLE story, and then decide for themselves what which to adopt and what they do not. Missionaries hand out deceptive and partial truths about what modern society belives, in order to shame native people into giving up not only the "savage" parts of their culture, but also their religion and unique knowledge. I recall a situation where a Shaman had been convinvced to give up his practice by missionaries that "cured" him using Quinine. It was only after an anthropolgist told him that it was his people that invented the use of Quinine that he decided to record and preserve his own medicinal knowledge. I recall another situation where a bunch of well meaning nuns, using the same needles, caused an Ebola outbreak. Initially the outbreak was blamed on the "savage" burial rites of the native people.

You see this is the problem with any culture deciding that another culture are savages. We ourselves are still too savage to even know what we are destroying until after it is gone.

As a Native American rights activist, Vine Deloria, once said "it is said that when the Pilgrims cam to this land all they had was the Book, and we had the land. Now we have the Book and they have the land."

At 2:36 PM, Anonymous Lonnie Murray said...

Also, Saint is anything but...

In so many ways, this so-called humanitarian mission of missionaries to bring "civilization" to "savages" has followed the same patterns or exploitation seen against Native Americans and other native people. For less biased account of the real culture of these people and the effects of the missionaries on them, please see:

At 2:48 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Who knows where to download XRumer 5.0 Palladium?
Help, please. All recommend this program to effectively advertise on the Internet, this is the best program!


Post a Comment

<< Home