End of the Spear

by Steve Saint
Reviewed date: 2006 May 24
338 pages
cover art

In 1956, warriors from the Waodani tribe of Ecuador killed five missionaries who had gone into the jungle to make contact. The 2006 movie End of the Spear tells the story of the Waodani tribe, recounting how this incident changed the course of Waodani history. Waodoni culture was based on violence, and their homicide rate of 60% was quickly leading to extinction. After the killings and subsequent missionary work among the tribe, the Waodani forsook their old violent ways.

While the movie End of the Spear tells the story of the Waodani path from violence to peace, Steve Saint's book End of the Spear tells a different story: how the Waodani realized they were unable to cope with foreign cultural influences, and how--with help from Steve Saint and others--they began the process of reshaping their society to handle the changes brought by the modern world.

As Steve Saint explains it, traditional Waodani society had only a few rules.

  1. If someone does something you don't like, ignore it.
  2. If you can't ignore it, kill the person.

When they renounced their cycle of violence, the Waodani were left with no way to resolve conflicts or prevent crime. This, combined with the Waodani's inability to understand capitalism and national politics--which were becoming increasingly important as the modern world encroached on the Waodani jungle--put the Waodani in a precarious situation. Without help, they were in danger of becoming wards of the welfare state--dependent on handouts and unable to fend for themselves.

With Steve Saint's help, the Waodani began to educate themselves about how to appoint tribal leaders, how to resolve conflicts, how to interact with outsider traders and businessmen, and even how to lobby and influence the Ecuadorian government.

End of the Spear is an interesting book, which I recommend to everyone who enjoyed the movie. Don't read the book unless you've seen the movie--Steve Saint's writing style is disjointed and the story might be difficult to understand if you are not already familiar with the events portrayed in the movie.

Archive | Search