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Thursday, March 06, 2008

Beyond the Gates of Splendor

I happened to see a DVD entitled Beyond the Gates of Splendor in one of the DVD racks of the local branch of our public library. I had never heard of it. I checked it out, and have seen most of it, certainly enough to recommend the DVD. It was released in 2002.

The film is a documentary, using interviews. It also uses photos, and videos, taken in the 1950s by the missionaries who attempted to reach the Aucas (also known as Huaorani and Waodani -- don't ask me which is correct) of the Amazon jungles of Ecuador. Five male missionaries were killed in 1956. Jim Elliot and Nate Saint are the best known. Elisabeth, Jim Elliot's wife, went to live with these Indians as a missionary some time after the killing. She has been an important author and speaker, and is still alive. One of her books is Through Gates of Splendor, which is about the events of 1956.

All five of the wives of the dead men are interviewed, as are other relatives, a missionary and a US soldier involved in the investigation of the incident, and several of Indians, including eyewitnesses of the events of 1956.

There doesn't seem to be much doubt that the Waodani are better off because of the efforts of these, and other missionaries. An anthropologist describes them, as they were in 1956, as perhaps the most violent society on earth -- some 60% of the ancestors of Indians he interviewed back then died by murder.

One idea that I had never heard was the reason given for the killings, by one of the Indians. He said that a man and a young unmarried woman, with an older woman as chaperon, came to visit the missionary men. (There are photos of these three, at the site, with the men.) The man and the young woman went back to the Indian camp without the chaperon, which upset some of the men at camp. These men were told that the chaperon wasn't with them because the foreigners had threatened them, which was a lie. The Indians, it was said, attacked because of this.

This is a moving movie. The recollections of the wives are sometimes funny, sometimes heart-wrenching. The Indians (with subtitles) are sometimes dramatic and sometimes matter-of-fact about some terrible events in their lives, but always interesting. I haven't seen anything about conversions of Indians so far, and probably won't -- this is from Twentieth-Century Fox, not some Christian organization, which, in a way, emphasizes the interest and importance of the story.

The director, Jim Hanon, went on to make The End of the Spear, a dramatized version of the same events, which had rather wide theater distribution in 2005. I guess I'd choose the documentary, if I had to select one of the two. Apparently Beyond the Gates of Splendor is still for sale.

Thanks for reading.

* * * *

March 7th, 2008. An additional post is here.


Matthew Tietje said...

Sounds interesting. I'll have to find it sometime.

Martin LaBar said...

Thanks, Matthew!

I have now seen the rest of the film, and was even more impressed with the last part. I'll try to post on it sometime soon.