Monday, April 24, 2006

Beyond the Gates of Splendor

The other movie that I watched last night was Beyond the Gates of Splendor, which is about one group, several families, of Christian missionaries (are there Buddhist missionaries? Jewish missionaries? Muslim missionaries?) in Ecquador, who attempt to make contact with and teach an indigenous Stone-Age tribe in the region Christianity. The problem is that the tribe is feared by all the local people because they kill outsiders and each other with little provocation. When the five men (husbands/fathers) from the group make contact with this group, they are killed, speared to death. The amazing thing is that their families stay in the area to minister to the tribe and several of the women, with their children in tow, become members of the tribe and sucessfully convert them to Christianity. One of the grandsons of one of the slain missionaries even becomes close enough to one of his grandfather's killers that he calls the man grandfather and asks that he come to America for his college graduation. The slain missionaries' wives told their children that they had a great deal in common with the tribe children because they had all had a family member speared to death by another tribe member. And none of these children seem to harbor any bitterness about the situation and are happy that they could bring Christianity and modernity to this group. Amazing!!!!

In addition to how amazing it is to me that the missionary families stayed to minister to the tribe is how quickly they took to the new religion and how it completely changed their culture. Two cultural anthropologists, a married couple, were interviewed for the movie. They had studied a similar tribe in Asia, with the exception that the tribe they had studied had one of the lowest homicide rates, where as this South American tribe had one of the highest. (Going back five generations, six out of every ten deaths was a homicide among this South American tribe.) Within a few years of the missionary families coming to live with them and convert them, the murders stopped. The missionaries used the creator god the tribe already had, turning that god into God, and said that he didn't want them to kill anymore. Because the homicides were the result of revenge cycles, once one clan in the tribe pledged to stop killing, the others started to follow suit. But was it really the Christianity that changed their mind? Or was it having a structure and someone higher to answer to, instead of the autonomous, egalitarian, and unstructured society? The cultural anthropologists seemed to think that the only difference between the South American and Asian tribes were that the Asian tribe had a very definate way to settle conflicts whereas the South American tribe did not so they handled it with violence.

Overall, a pretty interesting documentary, though I'm afraid it might be a little slanted since it was made by the Christian missionary families. I'd like to see if there is another side to this story.

No comments: