Beyond the Gates of Splendor tells an incredible, nearly unbelievable true story that spans 50 years in the lives of five families and a violent and isolated Ecuadorian tribe. If you think you might see it but don’t know the whole story, I urge you to stop reading and go, then come back here.
Really, I mean it. This is the kind of movie that is best experienced with no prior knowledge. I know, I know, you’re wondering how you’ll know it’s your kind of movie if you don’t what the hell it’s about. I’ll have to ask you to trust me here and just go. Go on, go.
Last warning, the next paragraph tells the tale, and as interesting as the story is to tell I sincerely hope you get to experience it on the big screen. Final warning. Here we go.
Back in the mid-50’s a group of five young, newly married, husband-and-wife couples moved to the jungles of Ecuador to do missionary work. Now, I personally have a problem with missionaries who go to other cultures with the express purpose of telling them that their belief system is wrong and the missionary’s is right, and the natives need to change to be “saved”. I find the implied cultural superiority to be distasteful, presumptuous, and disrespectful.
However, I do have a grudging respect for people who are so sincere in their beliefs that they will uproot their families and travel to remote, unsafe parts of the world and live spartan lives in order to do (what they think is) good. Also, even though their primary motivation is soul-saving, missionaries do *actual* good by bringing things like medical care, nutritional education, etc, that does bring real benefits.
Parking my high horse.
Now, these five families were spread out among different stations in the remote jungles of Ecuador, connected to each other by the radio and airplane. They talked frequently, got together when they could, and had a sense of community with each other. Several of the couples married while in Ecuador, and several of the couples either brought their children, or had children while there.
The Ecuadorians they dealt with on a daily basis told tales of the fierce Waodani tribe that lived in the deepest, darkest parts of the surrounding jungle, and killed with murderous efficiency at the slightest perceived affront. The Waodani had fought the burgeoning oil company presence to a standstill with their vicious “spearing raids”, where they would swoop into oil company stations and slaughter everyone there. With their crude wooden spears and a few pilfered machetes, the fierce and fearsome Waodani halted, however temporarily, the march of “civilized” progress in the Ecuadorian jungle.
The Waodani were not just a fearsome foe to outsiders, but were also prone to settling their interpersonal conflicts with spearings and machete murders. Anthropologists who later studied the tribe were able to trace back five generations of the Waodani, and determined that