Editor’s Note: The following contains spoilers for Avatar: The Way of the Water.The comparisons that the first Avatar drawn with american war epic dance with wolves were pretty clear. Not only was Avatar also a film about an outsider assimilating into a native species and fighting against their former government, but the film’s depiction of the RDA’s massacre of the Na’vi is a clear allegory for the genocide of the native peoples by European colonizers. james cameron never shied away from discussing the obvious connection. He stated bluntly that the film examines history “with all its conflict and bloodshed between the military aggressors of Europe and the indigenous peoples.” He added that “it was never meant to be subtle.” The true respect the production team had for the story they were alluding to can be seen in the way both films in the series honor the history, traditions and culture of the indigenous Polynesian Maori people of New Zealand. .
Maori culture began in New Zealand after settlers from Eastern Polynesia took canoe trips to the island in the 14th century. Maori traditions evolved during their isolation from the rest of the world, and over the following decades created unique craftsmanship, language, cultural landmarks and religious pillars. It was not until the 18th century that European settlers began to interact with the Maori, which led to a forced treaty in which they were forced to assimilate into Western culture. While European colonizers attempted to suppress Maori culture, there are still many active Maori societies in New Zealand today. Maori play a vital role in New Zealand politics, society, culture and media.
Avatar is not a clear allegory of a single historical example of colonization and genocide. There are allusions to European cruelty to the indigenous peoples of North America, Latin America’s struggles with the United Fruit Company, and the mistreatment of India by British rule. It’s a universal anti-imperialist story that also has significance for today’s issues, particularly in the way the story revolves around environmentalism and corporate malpractice. However, Maori culture has been used as one of the main sources of inspiration for some of the cultures of Avatar: The Way of the Water. The hints have sparked debate, criticism, and praise from community members.
References to Maori culture are intentional in Avatar
Respecting Maori culture was important to Cameron and his crew, as it was announced in 2013 that the Avatar the sequels would all be filmed in New Zealand. The way of the water presents the Metkayina clan of the Great Barrier Reef, directly inspired by the Maoris. While in the middle of production, Maori scholar Hamuera Kahi said he was concerned about how these traditions would be perceived by Western audiences, although he also said he did not believe that this was an appropriation, he also stated that he had faith in the actor. Cliff Curtis, who plays chef Metkayina Tonowari. According to Kahi, Curtis is “a kapa haka performer who competed regionally with Te Pikikotuku o Ngāti Rongomai, and he comes from a whānau of haka experts.”
The use of Maori traditions dates back to the earliest Avatar. There was a sequence involving a ritual dance which the Na’vi performance was inspired by the traditional Haka dance which was shot but ultimately removed from the theatrical cut. Additionally, Cameron said he studied the Māori language during the development of the Na’vi language and dialect. It was something that the producer Jon Landau had in mind with the sequels, as he felt it was important “to introduce us to new clans that are diverse, that look different, that have different cultural backgrounds to show movie-going audiences the diversity that exists in indigenous cultures.
Cliff Curtis’ performance as Tonowari has roots in Maori culture
Curtis wanted Tonowari to have the same humility that is an integral part of Maori culture. He emphasized the phrase “te āhua o te whakaiti”, which he explains means “not to put yourself down, but to understand that you are part of something much bigger than yourself. “. Before its appearance in The way of the waterCurtis has appeared in several films dealing with Maori traditions, including Once upon a time there were warriors and The Whale Rider. Curtis also explained that the Metkayina Clan’s deep connection with the sea creatures of the Barrier Reef was inspired by the stories he grew up hearing from older members of his family. He said stories that were “mythology” to his ancestors came to life in The way of the water.
The design of several Moko lip tattoos directly inspired similar markings on female members of the Metkayina clan. Ronald (Kate Winslet) the dresses mimic traditional Māori grass skirts, and the scrolls and textiles used by the Metkayina clan also bear a strong resemblance to Māori artwork. A local production team in New Zealand helped design the distinctive look for each of the characters. The influence of Kaitiakitanga’s Maori belief can be seen in the reef dwellers’ unwavering desire to protect their natural shorelines.
The Way of the Water deals with colonialism and its impact
One of the most heartbreaking moments in the film is when Ronal mourns the death of a tulkun, the whale-like creatures Colonel Quaritch (Stephane Lang) and the RDA men hunted. Many Maori tribes also believe in a deep spiritual connection to whales, and some believe they guided their ancestors to safety on their journeys. Whales were only hunted sparingly for food and utensils, but it was important to early Maori tribes to use the whole body out of respect. We see this violated in the film when Quaritch removes brain fluid from a tulkun, then mercilessly disposes of the rest of its body through cruelty. However, Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) daughter, Lo’ak (Brittany Dalton), is able to telepathically connect with a tulkun who comes to the aid of his family during the final action sequence.
The way of the water deals with some of the darker aspects of Maori history, as the themes of colonization and imperialism that were present in the first film are further accentuated. However, much of the film focuses on the sheer beauty of Pandora’s natural wonders and how they are honored by various Na’vi clans. The Metkayina clan’s acceptance of the Sully family at the very end is a sign of cultural unity as these heroes stand up to violent colonizers in the sequels to come.