- This article is about the tribes of the Si Wong Desert. For other similar uses, see Tribe (disambiguation).
The Si Wong tribes, also known as the Si Wong people, are a people indigenous to the Si Wong Desert in the Earth Kingdom, divided into several loosely-organized tribes such as the Hami Tribe. The tribes are notable for their special style of earthbending that involves bending loose sand instead of solid earth, and have adapted to their hostile and barren homeland by becoming nomads, raiders, and scavengers. They travel across the sand dunes through the use of sand-sailers.
The Si Wong tribes settled in the Si Wong Desert some time after the beetle-headed merchants, though they eventually became the predominant ethnic group of the region. Thanks to the desert's inaccessibility, the Earth Kingdom's government never managed to fully subdue the tribes.
After Wan Shi Tong moved his library to the physical world, the tribes began to trade with the spirit, delivering valuable texts and knowledge in exchange for access to the library's archives and its useful information. They also served as guides for any outsiders who wanted to cross the desert. The Si Wong tribes maintained a good relationship with Wan Shi Tong throughout the lifetime of Avatar Kyoshi. A teenager of Si Wong tribal origin, Lek, was also a friend of Kyoshi, and one of her earthbending teachers in 296 BG.
During the lifetime of Avatar Roku, the well of a sandbending tribe on the edge of the Si Wong Desert ran dry and they discovered that a city nearby had tapped the underground reservoir, diverting water away from the desert. The tribespeople tried negotiating with the city to halt their use of the reservoir until a mutually beneficial solution could be found, but they were ignored. The sandbenders looked for a diplomat or an inventor who could help them. During this time, the tribes' association with Wan Shi Tong grew more fraught, as they were blamed for bringing people to the library who wanted to obtain an advantage for their own nation, rather than pursuing knowledge for the sake of knowledge alone. They were banned from future access to the library, and without reason to return, they no longer kept the building from sinking deeper beneath the sands.
In 100 AG, a group of sandbenders was present during Team Avatar's arrival at the Misty Palms Oasis. They soon spotted Avatar Aang's flying bison, Appa, and tried to approach him, only to be chased away by Professor Zei. Later on, Ghashiun's group of bandits managed to capture the sky bison despite his fierce resistance. In an attempt to escape, Appa caused the loss of a sand-sailer which the group had stolen from the Hami Tribe. They later traded the sky bison to the beetle-headed merchants, who proceeded to sell him to a Fire Nation circus.
Days later, some sandbenders – among them the thieves that stole Appa – searched for the sand-sailer Appa had caused the sandbenders to lose. This sand-sailer had been recovered by Team Avatar, and at first, the sandbenders accused the team of theft, but Sha-Mo jumped to their defense. Toph recognized the voice of one of the thieves, Ghashiun, and deduced that he stole Appa. At first, Ghashiun denied this charge, but when Toph revealed that he had muzzled the bison, Aang became enraged and entered the Avatar State. Fearful of Aang's rage-induced power, Ghashiun admitted his theft and stated that he traded the bison, who was probably, by that point, in Ba Sing Se. The sandbenders subsequently offered to escort the group out of the desert, though this failed and had no choice but to escape from Aang's wrath on Sokka's insistence.
Sometime before 171 AG, a group of sandbenders had surrounded an oasis in the middle of the desert, the only one for a hundred miles. Bumi, who was a commander in the United Forces at the time, along with his platoon had taken notice of these sandbenders as the troops approached the oasis in an attempt to retrieve water, but were not welcomed by the angry tribesmen.
When Avatar Korra and Asami Sato rode their makeshift, metal sand-sailer out of the Si Wong Desert, a group of sandbenders eyed them in wonder before Asami offered to sell the metal vehicle to them.
The Si Wong tribes have a unique culture, and share few customs with the rest of the continent. Organized into communes that in turn form several tribes, the sandbenders have to cope with a hostile and harsh environment. As a desert people, they developed a sandbending style that enables them to use the sand-sailers which form their primary form of transportation. Due to their living in the sun-drenched Si Wong Desert, skin cancer is a common ailment among the Si Wong tribes. As a result, they are traditionally clad in multiple layers of clothing and use special goggles to protect themselves from the sun.
The tribes believe in a pantheon of gods, and according to their ancient lore, these supernatural beings showed their might and anger by dropping the massive Si Wong Rock onto the desert people when they no longer followed the rules of their priests. In death, tribal members eschew markers for their graves or funeral orations. Instead, the embrace of the land and nature's silence is believed to be the only fitting honor for the deceased.
Since economic opportunities are limited in the desert, sandbenders get by however they can. They are known to scavenge for dead animals and to steal from others, though raiding is believed to be a dishonorable action. Despite the scarce resources, the Si Wong tribes are not above offering hospitality to people wronged by their fellow tribesmen. They get their water from underground reservoirs located throughout the desert.
The tribes maintain contacts with both the beetle-headed merchants and the Earth Kingdom settlers around the desert, especially those living at the Misty Palms Oasis. Some tribal members are known to permanently live in these border settlements. However, desertification and major sandstorms regularly result in the oases drying up and towns being buried in sand, so that a settled lifestyle is not much safer than a nomadic one.
Traveling merchants are often all too ready to buy the booty which sandbender raiders have stolen, but the tribes' relationship with those from outside the desert is strained and ambiguous, as they are often not well received by outsiders due to their poor reputation as thieves and bandits. Nevertheless, they are also capable of accepting outsiders into their communes and tribes.
Some lawmen in the Si Wong desert would punish criminals by putting them in a gibbet, a high up cage, and leaving them until they would die of dehydration. This was done as a warning to other criminals.
- According to stories passed down by the Kyoshi Warriors, the Hami tribe once lived in the northwestern Earth Kingdom, and was known for its expertise in making fish dishes. These accounts are either faulty or indicate a case of a later migration and assimilation of an outsider group into the Si Wong people, something which is known for individual cases such as Suyin's.
- The Si Wong tribes bear a distinct resemblance in dress and culture to the real-life Tuareg people, who inhabit the Saharan interior of North Africa.
- The Hami Tribe's name matches that of the Hami Desert, a section of the Gobi Desert in China's Xinjiang Autonomous Region.
- The goggles they wear to shade their eyes from the sun and keep sand out look very similar to the eclipse glasses the invasion force wore during the invasion of the Fire Nation on the Day of Black Sun.
- Even though the beetle-headed merchants are known to be ethnically distinct from the other tribes in the desert, they are sometimes included under the umbrella term of "Si Wong tribes".