Yesterday I posted an article about a story that appeared in the Miami Herald concerning five missionaries who gave their lives 50 years ago this month. They were killed by several members of the Waodani tribe in Ecuador for a variety of reasons, fear among them. This tribe was on the verge of extinction due to their propensity for killing each other for revenge, women, and sometimes for no apparent reason. The movie about this event and the subsequent reaching of these people, The End of the Spear, was released yesterday and I went to see it with my family.
The film is rated PG-13, and that rating is quite correct. The violence is depicted in detail, and young children may find it too intense.
The story begins with Steve Saint, the son of Nate Saint, the missionary pilot, and Mincaye of the Waodani taking a trip together to an destination made clear toward the end of the film. The scene moves back to the mid 1940s when the child Mincaye is caught up in a raid by a rival group of Waodoni. He and a young girl hide and escape the killing, and not long thereafter the girl, Dayumae, approaches a group of men and goes with them even after being told by Mincaye that they would kill her and eat her. The story moves forward over a decade as a group of missionaries, having heard Dayumae's story, searches for the Waodani and, on locating them, prepares to make contact with them. They do, and shortly after they land on a sand bar they are killed by the spears of the Waodani, Mincaye included.
The rest of the story concerns Rachel Saint (Nate Saint's older sister), and Elisabeth Elliot, the widow of another of the slain missionaries, as they make contact with the Waodani. They are able to show, by their love, what the five men had no chance to do -- that there is a better way than revenge at the end of a spear.
This was a moving story, and one that will offer many topics for discussion.
Two things in the AP article by Richard Ostling stood out. One was the assessment of a University of Connecticut anthropologist that, before the missionaries came, the Waodoni were on the verge of cultural extinction due to the extreme violence that characterized their lives. The anthropologist, James Boster, is quoted as saying "of all the ways in which native people confront the larger society, often the most benevolent and caring face of the other culture is by missionaries."
The second thing that stood out in Ostling's article was that Steve Saint was at first reluctant to assist in the filming of the movie because the Waodani did not want it to happen. When they heard of the horrifying events a Columbine High School, in Littleton, Colorado, they changed their mind. It is sobering to realize that people who are seen by some as "savages", feel the need to show us a better way -- and they are uniquely qualified to do so.
As I suggested with The Chronicles of Narnia, don't be in too big a hurry to leave the theater when the credits start to roll, as the real Steve Saint and Mincaye are shown in excerpts from a documentary about the filming of The End of the Spear.