Posted by: newperspectives85 | January 6, 2012

Cultural Identity as the basis for international or internal conflict 7.29.11

Cultural identity as the basis for international or internal conflict
Cultural identity as the basis for international or internal conflict is a theme displayed in the book End of the Spear by Steve Saint and the film God Grew Tired of Us. In End of the Spear, the Waodani Indians are seen to outsiders as savages due to their culture of violence. They kill if someone is trespassing or for no reason at all whether it is outsiders or their own. Survival is based on kill before being killed. God Grew Tired of Us centers on civil war in Sudan and the migration of the “Lost Boys.” Cultural identity is a basis for this war as there are mostly religious concerns. Cultural identity can be a source of conflict on an international or internal level as seen in End of the Spear as a culture was on its way to annihilation from outside and within.
To those outside their territory, they had a name for the Waodani Indians: “Aucas.” This term was used to describe their culture of violence. One of the enemies of the Waodani Indians, the Quechuas coined this term for the Indians. According to Steve Saint (2005), “the Quechuas, their historic enemies, called them ‘Aucas,’ or ‘naked ones,’ because they wore no clothes, but the term became synonymous with ‘savage’ as the ‘Aucas’ frequently killed Quechuas who ventured into their game-rich territory, and raided their villages to steal metal axes and machetes, spearing anyone they encountered in the process” (p.30). The Waodanis would steal weapons and kill anyone who was on their border. To call one a savage implies hatred and fear of a certain group. That is exactly what the Quechuas had, along with outsiders. According to Saint (2005), “outsiders were as willing to kill ‘Aucas’ as Quechas, colonists, adventurers, rubber hunters, oil company workers, and maybe even conquistadores have killed these nomadic jungle dwellers without any need to justify their atrocities” (p.50). Outsiders had bad encounters with the Waodani Indians, and had so much hatred that there was no need to give reasons for killing them other than just being savages. In order to protect themselves, the Waodani may not have had a choice of whether or not killing was an everyday thing.
Killing was part of Waodani culture. An example can be seen in one of the Indians, Gikita, who lived longer than most of his tribe members due to his skills. According to Saint (2005), “Gikita grew up in a culture of death and achieved its highest accomplishment: he became tempo, a remorseless killer. This old warrior had spent his life as head killer of the Gikitaldi clan boring his name and has outlived every other man in the tribe, and he was only in his early thirties” (p.22). To be a tempo was to be ranked high in the Waodani culture. It required successful experiences in killing to the point it becomes second nature, and have no remorse in doing so. In regards to Gikita’s age, it shows that life for a Waodani indian was short, especially if they were not well versed in the art of killing. When it came to offenders, Gikita never forgot what they did, as he kept a list so he would know who to kill, and it could be for something from long ago. Saint (2005) states that “Gikita kept up a litany of atrocities that outsiders had perpetrated against the Waodani, and had plenty of material to work with” (p.49). Material meant weapons such as knifes or spears. Not even with the best precautions were people safe as Captain Johns wrote to Saint about his experiences. According to Saint (2005), Captain Johns wrote that “though vigilant armed guards were posted, the workers lived in daily fear; and it was for good reason, for the savages, as everyone was well aware, would wait for hours, even days, watching for an off-guard moment to strike their adversaries” (p.50). Not even the best people stood a chance against the Waodani because they had the element of surprise, putting the guards at a disadvantage. In addition to the outside threat, they also had threats from within.
The Waodani had to be aware of enemies from within. Because of the threat from within this was a reason why the Waodani were at risk for extinction—killing each other. An example of an enemy within was the Aenomenani. Saint (2005) states that “there was a group of Aenomenani in the village, technically part of the same tribe, who along with the upriver Waodani had killing vendettas that went back as far as anyone could remember” (p.11). Killing vendettas deal with grudges resulting from deaths, and the Waodani had these issues with their own people. To survive, the Waodani had to be nomadic. Saint (2005) states that “staying in one area for an extended period made the Waodani vulnerable to enemies within their own tribe” (p.31). Seeing the potential for extinction, Saint’s father decided to travel to the Waodani territory to save them from it. Saint (2005) states that “his dad and his friends knew they would be risking their lives if they tried to contact the ‘Aucas,’ but they believed that if they did not, outsiders would inevitably destroy these people who never had friendly contact with the outside world” (p.50). Saint’s father wanted to give the Waodani a chance for life and expose them to the outside world. He felt it was his responsibility to help them so outsiders would not exterminate the Indians. While the Waodani were not teaching missionaries their ways, survival was important in their territory.
The Waodani’s way of life was a matter of survival. Due to outsiders wanting to kill them, the Waodani had to be ready at all times. When Steve Saint was on the island, he remembered something his aunt told him regarding before attacks. Saint (2005) states that “when an individual Waodani clearing, usually consisting of two warriors and their families, felt an imminent attack, they would move to another part of the jungle to elude their enemies or invoke a cultural mechanism allowing one family group to demand relatives to temporarily live with them” (p.17). What this cultural mechanism does is have people in one area, so they can be ready for attack. If scattered, people are more vulnerable to attack, being together would make them stronger and less likely to be defeated. This is how the Waodani managed to survive attacks. When Saint visited the Waodani to learn about their ways, he came to the conclusion that the Waodani had no choice in their ways after looking at their conditions. Saint (2005) states that “he was convinced that the Waodani did not like to kill but simply knew they could kill and live or be killed and die, and they had no choice” (p.84). The culture of killing was an effect of lack of rules. Saint (2005) states that “the Waodani have no written code of conduct, so there was no penalty for killing” (p.83). Since there were no rules, people could get away with killing, especially for vendettas or past offenses. This is one reason why the Waodani kills—for self defense. There were some rules about killing. According to Saint (2005), two rules of killing included “if you cannot ignore something you do not like, then kill the person and it is best to kill everyone in the families of those you have vendettas against so there will be fewer of them to retaliate against your family” (p.83). If someone says something offensive and it cannot be ignored, then they can be killed. Sometimes people can kill for no reason other than just hating someone. If someone threatens one’s life, they have no choice but to kill them. Because there were so many people wanting to kill the Waodani, they needed to have the culture of violence. Not only is cultural identity as the basis for conflict present in End of the Spear but also in God Grew Tired of Us.
God Grew Tired of Us centers on the second civil war in Sudan which has taken place since the 1980s. Cultural identity as the basis for conflict can easily be seen based on research done revolving around the war. Although the war was about resources, it was also about religion. According to Mohamed Suliman (2001), “soldiers of the SPLA and members of SPLM were convinced that the war was all about the exploitation of resources taking place along the traditional faultlines of ethnic affiliations, but when asked 15 years later, many Southerners belonging to the same category of people, responded that the war was mainly about Arabization and Islamization” (para 41). The war had to do with identity issues in terms of Christianity and Islam. Religion is part of Sudan’s cultural identity, and Northern and Southern Sudan clash over this. In the movie God Grew Tired of Us, Southern Sudan was being persecuted, and one of the “Lost Boys” wanted to know why. The film does not go into detail of why but according to Middle East Quarterly, Southern Sudan was persecuted due to religion. The North believed in Islam as a way of life, while the Southerners opposed this because of exclusion. According to Francis M. Deng (2001), “for Northerners, Islam is not only a faith and a way of life, but it is also culture and ethnic identity associated with Arabism, but for Southerners, Islam, is not just a religion, but also Arabish as a racial, ethnic, and cultural phenomenon excluding them as black Africans and adherents of Christianity and indigenous religions” (para. 23). Since the Southerners felt as though Islam excluded them along with Christianity, they decided to reject Islam. The South was proud in its ethnicity as “black Africans” and Christian religion. The North clashed with the South because of religious differences. According to Deng (2001), “A northern Islamic scholar, ‘Abd al-Wahhab al-Affendi, elaborates: ‘Northern Sudanese, who identify strongly with their Arab heritage, are in no danger of being seduced by Africanism…But equally, Islamic ideology is by definition, unacceptable to non-Muslims. Its association with Arab northern self-assertion makes it even more unpalatable to Southerners” (para 27). Northern Sudan is proud in their Arab heritage, but with the country believing in Islam, it cannot be accepted by those in Southern Sudan, who are non-Muslims and Christian. In the film God Grew Tired of Us, Daniel Abul Pach stated that “people came at night with guns and if you were not Muslim, they could kill you.” He described the events that took place when the civil war began. This was an example of the persecution in Southern Sudan. Christianity and Islam clashed with each other in the civil war.
Cultural identity as a basis for international or internal conflict is bound to happen due to differences in opinion or ways of life. In End of the Spear, the Waodani Indians face dangers from the outside world and within due to its savage culture of killing, bringing about the threat of extinction. Lack of contact also contributed to the outside world labeling them as savages. In God Grew Tired of Us, religious differences led to the Sudanese civil war. Religion can and does result in conflicts with other countries due to differences in cultural identities. Cultural identity despite how proud a country is of it will cause conflict until the end of time.

Works Cited
Deng, Francis M. (2001) “Sudan—Civil War and Genoceide: Disappearing Christians of the Middle East” The Middle East Quarterly. Retrieved July 29, 2011 from
Saint, Steve. (2005). End of the Spear. Carol Stream, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers
Suliman, Mohamed. (2001). Oil and the Civil War in the Sudan. Retrieved July 29, 2011
Quinn, C. (2006) God Grew Tired of Us (film). Lost Boys of Sudan Inc, National Geographic Films and Newmarket Films



  1. Some genuinely good articles on this web site , thankyou for contribution.

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