AVATAR Spells Back to Nature

Posted on 26 February 2010 by Dr. Randall L. Eaton

A River Runs Through It did wonders for fly fishing and trout, and finally Hollywood has given us a top box office attraction that puts hunting in a good light. In the midst of a global crisis, the timing couldn’t be better. AVATAR strongly promotes the virtues of a life close to nature.
 
The military forces of earth invade the planet Pandora to exploit valuable minerals, but when they are unsuccessful at relocating the indigenous Nadi tribe from their sacred ground, all hell breaks loose. It’s futuristic gunships and powerful weaponry against  bows and arrows, though the Nadi ride impressive dragon-like aerial predators known as ikran which ultimately help win the day. 
 
The drama reminds us of the bloody history of European colonization of North America. The Navi people of Pandora are fashioned much like Native American hunting cultures with their deep respect for nature, the creatures, their planet and their god.
 
The film’s hero is Jake Sulley, a marine whose mind remotely directs a Navi body genetically engineered to befriend the Navi, learn their ways and encourage them to move away from the mineral-rich ground. His first entry into Navi territory finds him under attack by a pack of viper wolves, but he is rescued by a female Navi named Neytiri who skillfully kills many of  them.
 
As Neytiri dispatches the wounded predators, she apologizes to them. When Jake thanks her for saving his life, she insists that thanks are wrong, that it is sad that the wolves died.  She blames their death on Jake whom she compares to a baby whose ignorance attracted the wolves in the first place.
 
Reluctantly, Neytiri takes Jake with her to the tribe after nature spirits, resembling airborn jellyfish, collect all over his body, a sign to her that Jake is worthy.
 
As in all hunting-gathering cultures, a male earns the status of manhood and marriage by proving himself worthy on the hunting field.  Eventually, Neytiri mentors Jake in his rite of passage and he kills a larger herbivore which he ritually blesses and thanks.
 
The film honors tribal life, nature connection and spirituality, not only of the foraging peoples on earth, but of the ancestors of all civilized people. The rich life of the Nadi is a spectacular and beautiful appeal to our soul, a poignant reminder of what we are desperately missing.
 
The greatest disease in civilization is loneliness. Millions of people crammed into cities are living without authentic society. A recent U.S. study indicated that altogether civilized people feel powerless about politics, that their culture is rootless, economics is ruthless and the environment is futureless. In short, civilized humanity is without meaning and hope.
 
James Cameron’s epic film points us back to nature, and in doing so it gives new relevance to hunting and fishing and the absolute necessity of recruiting more young people to the outdoors.
 
My studies of the psycho-spiritual dimensions of recreational hunting indicate that a lifetime in the outdoors teaches universal virtues including inner peace, compassion and humility. Inner peace is the goal of spiritual and religious traditions across time and space, and humility is knowing we are part of something greater than ourself. 
 
The military force on Pandora epitomizes the pridefulness of contemporary civilized humanity and its unsustainable lifestyle.
 
Through questionnaires I discovered that 82-percent of the recreational hunters surveyed pray to the Creator or to the animal when they take its life, just like Native American hunters and the Navi.
 
My survey also reveals that hunters feel both elation and sadness about taking the lives of animals, like the Navi.
 
Nearly all hunters describe their feelings toward animals they hunt as respect, admiration and reverence. Hunting teaches us respect for life, connects us profoundly to nature and morally obliges us to be responsible conservationists.
 
While hunting is the ideal way to teach young people universal virtues including patience, generosity, courage and fortitude,  our boys especially still need rites of passage to become men of heart. As the original rite of passage, hunting is an ideal way to open the male heart. So is wilderness survival.
 
I once asked Felix Ike, a Western Shoshone elder, what kind of country this would be if the majority of men in it had been properly initiated to hunting. He replied, “It would be a totally different world.”
 
AVATAR is a wake up call that we must recover fundamental elements of the world we have lost: tribal life; mentoring nature connection from an early age; direct participation in the food chain; appropriate rites of passage for our boys; and olders who function as elder-mentors. All features of recreational hunting life.
 
AVATAR offers a model for us to recruit youth.  Kids and their parents and teachers need to understand that our relationship to nature and wildlife is like the Navi. We need to remind them we all take life, but because we participate directly in the food chain it is for us a love chain. They need to know that we, too, respect and revere nature and the gifts of the Creator. It helps our cause for them to know that, like the Navi, we feel elation and sadness when we take life, that no hunter revels in the death of the animal.
 
They also need to know that hunting makes us better people, more peaceful and compassionate.
 
In short, we owe it to ourselves and our world to rephrase the meaning of the hunt as sacred.
 
The heart of the hunter holds the secret for the recovery of proper relationship with the earth, the creatures, other people and the divine. That is the blessing of AVATAR.

3 Comments For This Post

  1. Dan H. Says:

    The Avatar scenario is not a wake-up call for a return to nature, or anything like this at all. No, it’s a trap.

    Look at the planet for a minute, will you? You have a planet-wide neural network, effectively defenceless natives and megatonnes of a substance which will be mindbogglingly attractive to a space-going civilisation that is advanced enough to get there, but not advanced enough to make their own unobtanium and which isn’t smart or cautious enough to be wary of the place.

    Somewhere, someone is very interested in civilisations which can travel between stars but which aren’t otherwise all that bright. Some time in the near future after the time the Avatar film is set, that planet-wide neural network is going to start screaming “Target Detected, Target Detected” and something’s going to turn up for a look. Were I the human military at that time, I’d want to have a very good look at the nearby gas giant planet…

  2. Roger Underhill Says:

    Thanks for the insightful commentary, which, having studied Native American ways since growing up in the New York countryside, made it that more interesting.
    Roger @ Bullmoose

  3. EcoRover Says:

    I do agree that Avatar portrays the spiritual side of hunting in a deeply effective way. In large measure, this stems from the Na’vi rejection of most technology. Sadly for many American hunters today, the hunt is more about the gear than it is any sense of connection with or appreciation for wild nature.

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