In the recent month, one of the Satellite T.V. Channels premiered blockbuster movie Avatar, and then its regular runs, re-runs and the constant bombardments of the same reminded me of the claims made by the Indigenous or Aboriginal population or Tribal or Adivasi (in India) that the writer-director James Cameroon’s modern-day cinematic epic was narrating the slice of stories from their lives.
For the benefit of those, who are yet to feast their eyes on Avatar, let me begin by summarizing the story of the epic movie that goes like this:
Circa 2100 A.D.:- Paraplegic war veteran, Jake Sully travels to another planet named Pandora to replace his deceased brother in a mission Avatar with the promise of getting his legs back if he helps the government on the greedy corporate backed colonialist designs. The planet Pandora not only boasts of treasure-trove of precious minerals and many other rich natural resources; but the planet is also inhabited by a primitive (according to the bigheaded Humans) race known as Na’vi. This entire corporate backed military operation is led by overzealous Colonel, who wants Jake Sully to use his Avatar identity to infiltrate into the world of native Na’vi, to learn their tribal ways so that he can help relocate them from their land and then the Humans can take over the entire planet for their own commercial benefits. Though Jake Sully manages to win over the hearts of Na’vi people, he also ends up losing his heart to the beautiful Neytiri and develops deep emotional bond with the Na’vi natives; which results in a failure of mission Avatar. This infuriates Colonel, so he declares war and orders his troops to undertake inhuman extermination of Na’vi people from their own land, who live in perfect harmony with the nature for last so many centuries. Thus begin the classic war in planet Pandora between the imperialists Humans and the native Na’vi; the battle that would decide the fate of Na’vi, the Pandora and the Humans.
So we decided to dispassionately look at few narrative points put forward by movie Avatar one-by-one and the Adivasi Community’s take on the same.
Avatar’s point-I: Circa 2100 A.D. in Earth. Over-population, over-development, nuclear-terrorism, environmental-warfare, waste- dumps, toxic, pollution, deforestation, global-warming, ozone-depletion, biodiversity-loss through extinction, et al, all of these have combined to make the once green and beautiful planet a terminal cesspool. All whales and at least half the Earth’s fish species are extinct. On land over half the species are now gone forever, with most of the remaining endangered. The human race, using its technical ingenuity, has learned to keep itself alive, but it has lost almost all contact with the natural world, which it has strangled and crushed out of existence on planet Earth.
Adivasis’ take-I: Our human race is slowly but steadily moving in the direction of self-destruction. It is time for all of us to pause, reflect, introspect and take remedial measures.
Avatar’s point-II: RDA, an international consortium of major corporations whose purpose is to find and exploit resources on other planets….”THE CONSORTIUM”……they discover a planet Pandora …… The single most interesting thing to happen to the human race in ages; it has bizarre flora and fauna. To a culture which has lost all contact with the natural world, Pandora is mysterious, primal, and terrifying…..There is, of course, a primitive humanoid species on Pandora. They are called the NA’VI, using their word for themselves. In the Avatar Program you sign a contract to work on Pandora.
Adivasis’ take-II: Adivasis too lived in the clean natural environment in the midst of most amazing flora and fauna until the profit driven corporate discovered their land and them.
Avatar’s point-III: THE CONSORTIUM is trying to bridge the cultural gap with the aboriginal Na’vi population. The object of the game is not to go there and mine. They want to build up an industrial infrastructure in Pandora. They want to tame it and to civilize it. So colonization, in the classical sense, won’t work. You have an indigenous population there. They’re primitive, but they have brains and hands, and maybe they can be taught to do the things we need done and give them cool technology to improve their lives and in return they will be so grateful they’ll not only work in our factories, they’ll even build them for us.
Adivasis’ take-III: The first major Corporate to visit their land was East India Company and since then they have lost count of the number of corporations that have straddled across their lands pursuing their not so hidden agenda akin to much hated colonialism.
Avatar’s point-IV: Pandora is blessed with a naturally occurring substance a million times more precious than gold. Its joke name of “unobtanium” has stuck, over the years. Unobtanium is a rare-earth mineral, which is a room-temperature superconductor. It is unique to Pandora. Another interesting property of unobtanium is that they levitate in a powerful magnetic field. On Pandora the effect causes huge outcroppings of unobtanium to rip loose from the surface and float in the magnetic vortices. These floating islands circulate slowly in the magnetic currents. The Pandorans call them the Thundering Rocks, and the entire area is sacred to them. Since the humans have come to mine these mountains and get rich; which is why they are called the Hallelujah Mountains.
Avatar’s point-V: The Na’vi has protested against the Humans clearing the trees at one of their sacred sites. They mourn the spirit of a tree when it dies. The Humans don’t understand and they don’t want to understand a primitive culture which lives close to the soil, close to the daily cycle of birth and death. Humans give them a gun so they can hunt better, and they give it back. As the Na’vi consider it unfair and obscene to hunt with a gun… a dishonor to the spirit of the animal and its purpose for existence. The Na’vi believe that everything has a purpose, and sometimes the animal’s purpose is to feed the Na’vi and sometimes the Na’vi’s purpose is to feed the animal.
Adivasis’ take-IV & V: For thousands of years, Adivasis have lived in perfect harmony and deep bond with the natural world surrounding them. They lived near thick jungles without ever threatening the very existence of the environment. For instance, the Oraon tribe traces their totem to the flora and fauna, as they believe, their totem to act as their ally and saviour.
Avatar’s point-VI: The Avatar programme tries to get the Na’vi to trust the humans (“Sky People”). So that humans can use them? So humans can harness them? So humans can make them slaves, and teach them to participate in the rape of their own home planet? The humans even use the services of anthropologists, scientists, soldiers, etc. to suppress them.
Adivasis’ take-VI: All types of tricks of trade were used to subdue the Adivasis in their own land; for instance the Adivasis of Jharkhand have named their exploiters as “The Dikku”. These Dikku viciously attacked Adivasis’ way of life, culture, religion, traditions, language, etc.; they assailed almost everything associated with Adivasis to make them feel inferior.
Avatar’s point-VII: The irony is that the greatest treasure on Pandora is not the precious minerals to be ripped out of the earth. It’s the bio-diversity in the forest. The humans will bulldoze it before they know. The tractors and bulldozers crush the forest. When the swath of destruction reaches full circle, the forest in the center is ignited. Na’vi watch in horror from a hillside as the flames burn like a funeral pyre below. The Na’vi don’t understand what is happening. They trusted humans but humans betrayed them. Humans with their corruption and deceit are going to turn Pandora into another Earth; suck the life out of it, and kill it like a cancer.
Adivasis’ take-VII: Many of the younger generation of Adivasis has been re-educated and brainwashed by the Dikkus, as a result many of them remain ignorant of the loss that surrounds them. However the older generation of Adivasis laments the betrayal by the Dikku that continues to this day; as they watch helplessly the burning of the funeral pyre..
Avatar’s point-VIII: The Avatar (Jake) tells Na’vi that they are not just fighting for this part of the forest, or these few trees, but for the very future of their Pandora. He says the history of the aliens or humans they call the “Sky People” is one of blood. For as long as can be remembered, Humans take what is not theirs. They take the land and hunting grounds of other people, and kill them, or put them in places they cannot live. They call this progress, and it has led them down a path to sickness and death. Their world, their forest, is a dying place. They have killed their mother. And they will do the same here. They must be driven away. When they come again they will come with all their force, and we must be ready. We must fight, to our last breath, or they will rape and kill our mother as they did their own.
Adivasis’ take-VIII: Adivasis too have gone through the similar experience, but they still wait for an imminent arrival of Avatar, one who could lead their fight back against the Dikku.
One of the critics had described the movie Avatar in these words: “Cameron came up with a lot of original ideas for this film, but the story was not one of them. Although it was well put together, clean, and everything played out like clock-work, there was no originality to it. As everyone realized as they were walking out of the theatre, the film is Dances with Wolves but with blue cat-like aliens.” It is interesting to note the Avatar’s plot bear striking resemblance with Kevin Costner’s Dances with Wolves; another classic movie that incidentally was based on the Red Indians, the indigenous population of the North America. In India too many Adivasis stressed that they too could identify with the way of life and the plights of “Na’vi” natives. I know many naysayers would discard these assertions as mere rambling. But the truth has funny of staring back at us, more so when you least expect them. Meanwhile Adivasis await the arrival of their real-life Avatar.