Making the Grades
Survival of the fittest is an understatement when describing the jungle existence of the Waodani Indians. But deadly snakes, wild jaguars and blood-sucking bats are the least of the problems for these Amazon dwellers. Living and dying by the spear, the Waodani's greatest enemy is themselves.
Born into this hostile environment on the brink of self-extinction is Mincayani (Louie Leonardo). As a child he lost some family members due to attacks by neighboring tribesmen, and others to the tradition of killing and burying children with their wounded and dying fathers. Although his sister Dayumae (Christina Souza) escaped such a sentence by fleeing to a group of foreigners camped at the edge of their territory, he fears her fate was no better. He understands, just like the rest of his people, that the white-men are cannibals.
Meanwhile, the Saint family comes to Ecuador hoping to do missionary work among the local natives. Nate Saint (Chad Allen) and his fellow laborers are particularly zealous to find the illusive Waodanis before their barbaric responses to encroaching civilization causes the terrorized settlers to retaliate by totally annihilating them. Conducting systematic air searches, the American preachers discover a primitive village and prepare to make contact. Understanding the risks, the men purposely keep their plans from Nate's sister Rachel (Sara Kathryn Bakker), even though she is the leading expert on these aboriginals and their language because she has been sheltering a young woman named Dayumae.
Based on the true story of these five Christian missionaries, their families and the Waodanis, the End of the Spear probes into the events that transpired after their initial meeting in the 1950s.
Beautifully shot, well crafted and nicely acted, this limited-release movie recreates the details of this account, and proves facts are indeed more amazing than fiction. The only disappointment comes from the script, which fails to clearly explain how these missionaries and their legacy managed to bring an end of the spear to these ferocious warriors. However, messages of courage, selflessness, forgiveness and repentance are abundant.
While these are positive themes, parents will still want to be cautious when viewing this film with their children. In order to show the Waodani way of life, there are numerous depictions of murder (including women and children), impaling with spears, brandished machetes, bloody wounds, death threats and kidnappings. Other violence includes animals attacking humans, and humans hunting animals. Of course, native garb (or lack there of) may present some concerns as well, even though the women in the movie are dressed in more clothing than the real Indians actually wore. Some sexuality creeps in too, with verbal references to infidelity and unwed pregnancy.
Yet the production should be praised for what it is trying to accomplish. Not only does it bring this worthy tale to light, it also promises to send half of its proceeds to help the plight of indigenous people. Now that's an example of practicing exactly what you preach.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about End of the Spear.
What impact did the introduction of the missionaries have on the Waodani Indians? Was it positive, negative or both? Was this collision of cultures inevitable? What would likely have happened if the meeting had been prolonged, or another group of people made contact first? Do you think civilized societies should share their ideas with primitive societies?
In the story, Steve Saint (the son of Nate) and Mincayani discuss the concept of giving versus taking something. What do you think is the difference? How did the understanding they reached affect the lives of both of these men?
What attitude toward self-defense did the missionaries have? Do you agree with their philosophy? How did their decision affect the future relations between the two groups?
Home Video Viewing Alternatives
Here are some ideas for home video titles that are related to End of the Spear.
The documentary Beyond the Gates of Splendor also examines the story of the five American missionaries who first attempted contact with the Waodani Indians. The experiences of another American missionary (who serves among the people of Tonga) are recounted in the movie The Other Side of Heaven. The differences between primitive societies and modern man are the basis for both humor and contemplation in the South African film, The Gods Must be Crazy.